Belfast Telegraph

Report shows more Northern Ireland children seeking help after sexual exploitation

In 60% of counselling sessions young people from Northern Ireland disclosed they were targeted online, often by their peers or people known to them. (stock photo)
In 60% of counselling sessions young people from Northern Ireland disclosed they were targeted online, often by their peers or people known to them. (stock photo)
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

There has been a huge increase in the number of children from Northern Ireland who have used Childline's counselling sessions after being groomed and sexually exploited.

The charity's annual report revealed it carried out 140 counselling sessions concerning child sexual exploitation (CSE) here in the last year (2018/19) - up 44% on the previous year.

In 60% of counselling sessions young people from Northern Ireland disclosed they were targeted online, often by their peers or people known to them.

Most commonly, the children received help from Childline because they had been tricked into sending naked images or videos of themselves, or had been contacted or groomed by someone wanting to sexually exploit them.

Such exploitation featured in more than half of the 244 counselling sessions from Northern Ireland.

The true scale of the contacts will almost certainly be higher as almost a fifth of children contacting the service across the UK about CSE did not reveal where they were from.

An 18-year-old woman revealed to Childline: "When I was younger I kept going online to talk to people mainly because I felt so alone.

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"Some older guys started chatting to me and I sent nude pictures and videos of myself to them.

"I got compliments and didn't know how to say no.

"Most of them knew I was just 13 and some of them threatened to post the pictures online if I didn't send more.

"I feel sick just thinking about it and feel so insecure about this all coming back to haunt me."

Young people told Childline their experience with CSE included receiving affection or gifts in exchange for performing sexual activities.

Others were persuaded to share sexual images online, and then threatened the images would be shared with friends or family.

Childline has now called on the Department of Education to provide effective training to teachers, building on the good work completed to date in developing guidance, and a relationships and sexuality education hub to share resources for schools.

The charity added that training should ensure teachers are comfortable with lessons about healthy relationships and consent, and supporting young people to get help from a trusted adult.

Mairead Monds, Childline service manager for Belfast, said: "Sadly, we are hearing from young people every day who are being manipulated or blackmailed into carrying out sexual acts.

"For many this impacts on their mental health and leaves them feeling isolated from the people closest to them.

"Some turn to self-harm, alcohol or substance misuse as ways of coping with their experiences.

"Everyone must be prepared to confront this problem, from government right through to schools, parents, professionals, and us at Childline.

"The Department of Education should build on existing good practice and developments to ensure teachers are confident to teach relationships and sexuality education. Childline needs more volunteers to make sure they can be there for every child who need our help, at all times of day and night."

The NSPCC's Childline is available on 0800 1111

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