Girl on a mobile phone with sentence reading learn how to spot the signs of child exploitation

‘I’m Being Exploited’ is a powerful short film launched today (Thursday 14 September) by the Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Partnership (NSCP), and produced in conjunction with Northamptonshire Police and partners across Northamptonshire, hoping to raise awareness to parents of a growing issue in the UK – known as ‘Child Exploitation’ (CE).

Child Exploitation is when a child or young person is targeted by an individual or criminal gang and manipulated or coerced into committing crimes or sexual acts.

This new film seeks to help parents and other trusted adults spot the signs of a problem and highlight the crucial part they can play by taking appropriate action.

Jenny Coles, Chair of the NSCP said: “Across the UK the issue of Child Exploitation is considered to be a growing child protection concern – it’s important that we highlight this to parents so they can be on the look-out for the signs, some of which are shown in the film.

“We need to work together across the partnership and with parents, to put an end to this type of abuse.  It is important to understand that young people who are caught up in this type of activity often do not see themselves as victims, as those who are exploiting them make them feel important, respected and looked after.

“Most children are safe and won’t be criminally or sexually exploited but we can’t ignore that child exploitation is happening here in Northamptonshire and is increasing. This new film gives us the opportunity to raise awareness to parents that this could happen to their child, to think about the signs, and to know that help is available.”

Child exploitation can involve bribery, intimidation, violence and/or threats. The child does not need to have met whoever is exploiting them – children can be exploited via the internet or using mobile phones. They can also be targeted on social media platforms and gaming forums.

People who exploit children use the fact that they have power over children, because of an age difference or some other factor like gender, intelligence, strength, status or wealth. A child may have been exploited even if it looks as if they have been a willing participant.

Children don’t always speak up when they are in trouble but there are often some clear signs that could indicate they are being criminally or sexually exploited.

Evidence shows children are more likely to open up to an adult they have an existing and trusting relationship with. This can include parents, grandparents and extended family members, teachers or other school staff, sports or leisure coaches and community leaders.

Every one of us can potentially make a difference to the safety of a child by knowing the signs to look out for. Some of the common signs shown in the film include changes in ‘normal’ behaviour, increased messages or calls, and having new belongings or money that can’t be accounted for.

Other signs include:

  • Being away from home more and being in places they wouldn’t usually be
  • Spending time with older people
  • Committing ASB / low level crime
  • Changes in emotional wellbeing
  • Unexplained injuries
  • New and expensive possessions
  • Deterioration in school performance or going missing from school
  • Having more than one phone

Detective Chief Inspector Jen Castle, the Northamptonshire Police lead for Child Safeguarding said: “The police and our partners in the NSCP want to do all we can to help children and young people escape exploitation.  Any child can be targeted for exploitation, whoever they are, wherever they live. In towns, villages and on social media.

“Exploiters are manipulators.  They groom children and young people, make them feel special, befriend them, and gain their trust, sometimes buying them gifts or treats. Often the children themselves don’t realise they are a victim of exploitation until they are in too deep, or they may feel ashamed, embarrassed, or too afraid to tell anyone what’s happening. They may feel things have spiralled out of control, or they could have drug debts, or threatened with violence, keeping them bonded to their abuser. We want to safeguard them and lead them towards getting help and support.

“We want to encourage parents and others to watch the film and consider if a child’s change in behaviour could be due to adults criminally or sexually exploiting them. If something doesn’t feel right, it might not be.  If any parents are concerned that their child is being exploited please report your concerns.”

If you think someone you know might be being exploited, there are people you can talk to who can help. Contact Police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.  Or contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. You can also contact NSPCC 0808 800 5000

The ‘I’m Being Exploited’ video will be promoted widely via social and digital media channels, and through NSCP and partner websites.

In addition, the film will be shared with professionals, and with schools and colleges in the county, an education pack is also being developed.

A special Child Exploitation Facebook Live Q&A session aimed at parents will be hosted by Northamptonshire Police on Wednesday 20th September 2023 at 7pm. Details will be shared nearer the date.