Raising awareness of child exploitation
The weekend just past marked National Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Awareness Day across the UK.
CSE is a horrendous form of sexual abuse that involves the manipulation, or coercion, of young people into sexual activity.
The day, which was fully supported by the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland, aimed to highlight the problem and encourage everyone to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to adults developing inappropriate relationships with children.
But exploitation of children can often be very difficult to spot. Young people who are being abused can be tricked into believing they are in a loving relationship.
They can often be given gifts, money, or drugs, so they become dependent on the person abusing them, and can also be intimidated and threatened, so they comply with demands.
With the rising use of smartphones and tablets, more young people are talking to people behind closed doors, making it ever more difficult for parents to know what their children are doing.
The rise in the selfie culture and use of social media could also be fuelling the problem, with young people putting themselves at greater risk.
Children are increasingly contacting our ChildLine, telling us that they are being targeted online, meaning it is vital that parents educate themselves about the world children are inhabiting.
Parents need to be alert to any changes in their child's behaviour that could suggest they are being targeted, or abused. It is also important that parents have open and honest conversations with their children to enable young people to talk to someone if they feel worried or scared about anything they've been involved in.
Across Northern Ireland, we need to have strong partnerships in place to give ourselves the best possible chance of tackling this issue. By working together, we can help protect the most vulnerable in our society.
Members of the public also play a big part in helping to protect children, and we ask everyone to know the signs of child sexual exploitation and, if they see them, to know where to go for help.
The dedicated NSPCC CSE helpline is on 0800 389 1701 while children can contact ChildLine on 0800 1111.
Head, NSPCC in Northern Ireland