The Western Trust are urging parents to be aware of the risk of Child Sexual Exploitation.

The call comes as part of the Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Awareness Week organised by the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland.

Child Sexual Exploitation is a form of sexual abuse when a person exploits or manipulates a child or young person into engaging in some form of sexual activity in return for something tangible, for example money or gifts or intangible, such as perceived affection.

Children are most vulnerable to sexual exploitation between the ages of 13-15, but younger victims are being targeted all the time. In one month alone, Barnardo’s services across the UK worked with 126 children aged 10–13 who had been affected.

Child Exploitation can happen to any child from any family background and anywhere – inside or outside the home.

Kieran Downey, Executive Director of Social Work/Director of Women’s and Children’s Services, Western Trust said: “Child Sexual Exploitation can have a major impact on young people, making them feel trapped and manipulated. This feeling can lead to anxiety, depression, drug or alcohol abuse or self-harm and can have long term consequences on school work and family life. There is no typical victim of Child Sexual Exploitation, however there are warning signs which may indicate something is wrong, therefore it is vital that parents are aware of the risks and how they can protect their child."

Mr Downey continued: “In today’s modern world, driven by advanced technology and increasing accessibility to mobile devices, parent need to be wary of the risks to their child both inside and outside the home. We urge parents to me mindful of their children’s online activity and behaviour, but most importantly try to maintain open and honest communication with your child.”

Charmaine McNally, Child Sexual Exploitation Lead, Western Trust also commented: “As the CSE Lead for the Western Trust, I work collaboratively with other professionals to safeguard and support young people living in our area from such harm. There are approximately 40 young people in any given month assessed and/or reviewed in regards to being at potential or suspected risk of CSE.

"At this present moment in time specifically, within the Western Trust, approximately 25 percent of these young people are confirmed victims, deemed to be at considerable future risk. A significant amount of resources are designated to protect these young people, support them through their experiences and to disrupt those who have caused such harm.”

Charmaine continued: “The impact of Child Sexual Exploitation, as with any other form of abuse can have a devastating impact, which can be long lasting. With greater awareness, shared responsibility from both professionals and local communities, we need to work together to prevent the future harm of our young people.”

There is a wide range of support available to parents, these include; Barnardos (www.barnardos.org.uk) NSPCC (www.nspcc.org.uk) or the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (www.safeguardingni.org) and parents are encouraged to attend any online safety awareness events organised through schools.

For more information on Child Sexual Exploitation and local support please contact; Gateway Team 9am – 5pm, Mon – Fri on (028) 71314090 or the Regional Emergency Social Work Service outside of these hours on 028 9504 9999 to discuss your concerns and to seek advice and support.

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