THE BLOG

We Must Find New Ways to Talk to Children About Sexual Exploitation

28/04/2014 13:24 BST | Updated 28/06/2014 10:59 BST

Last year Barnardo's worked with 2,592 sexually exploited children across the UK. The year before we worked with 1,940; that's a rise of 34%.

This number continues to rise year on year and every time we open a new service we are inundated with young people who need our support.

In order to ensure that more children live free from sexual exploitation it is essential that we do all we can to make young people aware of the risks and educate them so they can stay safe.

The world of the young increasingly revolves around the use of technology. In order to ensure that our message about the risks of child sexual exploitation gets through we need to keep finding new and innovative ways to communicate it.

Last week we launched a unique app, 'Wud U?', that we hope will allow professionals to have these challenging conversations with children.

'Wud U?', which was developed in partnership with Microsoft, aims to empower children to protect themselves against sexual exploitation by getting young people to think for themselves which scenarios might put them at risk. We want all children to be able to identify what a healthy relationship looks like, so that when they are with a partner, at a party or just chatting on-line they make good decisions.

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.

By offering an interactive way for young people to learn about child sexual exploitation we hope that more will be engaged to question the decisions they make and ensure they keep themselves safe.

Our recent campaign showed that teenagers can, through no fault of their own, find themselves in situations that could lead to them being exploited or abused as result of their natural curiosity and desire to fit in.

We called on parents to be aware of the signs of child sexual exploitation so that they could have open and honest conversations with their children in order to keep them safe.

But it is incumbent on everyone involved in the safeguarding of children to have these conversations with young people. Whether it's a teacher standing in front of a classroom of pupils or a social worker conducting one to one work with a vulnerable child, the message is the same.

We know it can be a difficult and potentially embarrassing conversation to have with a teenager but it is essential that children know that the choices they make could put them in danger.

We don't want teenagers to stop being teenagers. We need our young people to continue to challenge and question the world around them. But this extends to their own choices and it's essential that children know how to keep themselves safe.