THE BLOG

Parents Must Be Aware of the Signs of Child Sexual Exploitation

18/03/2014 10:46 GMT | Updated 17/05/2014 10:59 BST

We all remember our teenage years, the high and the lows. It is a time of change, of learning new things about life and yourself, exploring the world and trying things for the first time.

For most young people growing up in a loving environment their teenage years are a period they will reflect upon fondly in later years. However for sexually exploited children, being a teenager can be a turbulent and harrowing time of violence and abuse.

Child sexual exploitation devastates young lives and communities. Barnardo's worked with nearly 2,000 children last year and we see first-hand the profound effect of this terrible crime.

It is vital that parents are alive to the tell-tale signs that their children may be vulnerable to abuse.

To help with this Barnardo's has identified three simple questions that parents should be asking their children:

• How much do you know about the people you spend time/chat with? Do you feel safe with them?

• Has one of your friends ever given you a gift or bought something for you and you didn't know why?

• Has anyone ever asked you to do something that made you feel uncomfortable? Would you talk to me if someone did?

Barnardo's has launched an advert to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation. The advert tells the story of Ellie, 14, who is being sexually exploited. Ellie felt the abuse she suffered was her fault, that she didn't deserve any better.

Teenagers are naturally curious and that curiosity is an important part of their development. However because of this they are inherently vulnerable and it's these vulnerabilities that abusers look to exploit.

The modern world presents youngsters with the chance to engage with and challenge their environment in a way that previous generations simply couldn't.

Children today are more technologically literate than ever before. Teenagers have grown up with social media and mobile technology - they've never known anything else.

While presenting fantastic opportunities for young people, this brave new world also presents challenges and dangers.

Perpetrators are increasingly using technology to target young people and pull them into their web of exploitation. We know this because the children we support have told us.

In fact 370 children of the children we supported in September last year identified that technology was used in their exploitation.

Findings like these reinforce the importance of mums and dads being aware of the risks.

We want parents to be comfortable talking to their kids about this difficult subject. This isn't about spying on children or trying to control them but empowering them and building their trust so that when they have to, they make the right choice.

This is an exciting time to be a young person. A generation that has the freedom to question the world around them is good for society. By raising awareness of the signs of child sexual exploitation we can ensure that as the young explore they do so safely.