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New drive to increase awareness of child sexual exploitation

By Claire McNeilly

Could you recognise the signs of child sexual exploitation​?

The Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI) is hoping that, by the end of this week, a lot more people will be able to do just that.

Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness week, which begins today, is aimed at broadening the awareness of an increasingly important issue.

All week, board members, including the PSNI, local health trusts, the NSPCC and Barnardo's, will escalate their social media activity to highlight the threat faced by Northern Ireland Children and increase awareness of the danger signs.

Over the course of the week, the agencies will be posting a variety of messages, videos, clips and images, including messages from some victims of child sexual exploitation, on their social media platforms, using the hashtag #CSEAwarenessNI.

A new play 'Crashing', aimed at increasing awareness of the issue among young boys, will also be launched this week. Bernie McNally, Interim Independent Chair of the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland, said child sexual exploitation is a type of sexual abuse where children are coerced into some form of sexual activity.

"Children or young people can be tricked into believing they are in a genuine and loving relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend," she said.

"They are often given money, gifts, drugs, alcohol or affection to create a dependency on their abuser. Fear of violence if they don't comply with their abuser's demands is also a significant factor.

"Sexual exploitation can happen to any young person - whatever their background, age, gender, race or sexuality, or wherever they live.

"As those tasked with tackling the issue of sexual exploitation of children, we know the most effective way to do this is via strong multi-agency and partnership working.

"By working together, we can help protect those who are the most vulnerable in our society, but it is also vital that the public understand the issue of child sexual exploitation, know the signs to look out for and know where to go for help.

"Over the course of the week, all of the agencies involved will be using their social media platforms to help highlight this very important issue."

Detective Superintendent Deirdre Bones, from the PSNI's Public Protection Branch, said: "Our efforts are focused on disrupting and prosecuting offenders and protecting those young people at risk of exploitation."

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