Whilst child abuse can be sexual, physical, emotional and neglect, for the purpose of this article we focus on sexual child abuse and exploitation.
Link to Change is an independent charity which offers support to children and young people aged 12 to 26 in Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and Bedfordshire. Their aim is to promote a greater understanding of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and young people. At the conference, attendees heard from several speakers and watched a slimmed down version of a theatre in education programme, “Working for Marcus” which highlights online grooming and exploitation.
The conference reminded all of the continuing risks to children and steps that could be taken to help prevent sexual abuse and exploitation. Examples of these include the following:
Communication/talking to children at an early age
Communication is paramount. It sounds an easy step to take but whilst most of us find it easy to talk to children about being careful when crossing the road or not touching hot items (to name but a few), we struggle with teaching young children body safety. It is likely that we avoid this because it seems wrong to talk to young children about sex and we don't want to frighten or confuse.
With this in mind, the NSPCC has created a friendly singing dinosaur called Pantosaurus, which can be used to explain the underwear rule (PANTS) to young children without scaring them. The key message is as follows:
Privates are private
Always remember your body belongs to you
No means no
Talk about secrets that upset you
Speak up, someone can help.
As children get older it is important to keep the lines of communication open. This can be difficult with teenagers who may be glued to their mobile phones and are uncomfortable with discussing sex with adults. A way round this might be to discuss stories and ask for their opinion about things that appear in the media or on tv programmes. There are certainly many to choose from.
Recognising and/or being alive to signs of child abuse
There are many signs of abuse and these may vary from child to child. Signs of possible abuse may include the following:
- Behaviour changes/unexplained personality changes/becoming secretive
- Aggression/depression/anxiety/being withdrawn or clingy
- Sexualised behaviour
- Unexplained injuries around the genital area
- Nightmares/sleeping problems
The above signs do not mean that a child is being abused, these are just possible indicators.
Know who is looking after your child
Many parents and other caregivers entrust their children’s care to babysitters, childminders and after-school activity and sports clubs, but do we really know who these people are? Many of these clubs are unregulated and the staff not subject to DBS checks. The NWG (Network’s Safeguarding in Sport) recommends that those using the clubs research them in the same way as they would schools. They also recommend asking five key questions:
- Does the club have a comprehensive safeguarding policy and where can it be found?
- Who is the point of contact at the club that individuals can speak to if they have concerns or worries?
- What kind of training have the staff received on safeguarding, health and safety, and first aid?
- What happens if there is an injury during the session?
- Does the club have a clear safer recruitment policy for club staff and volunteers which includes a comprehensive vetting (DBS) process?
You may also wish to consider using the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme, also known as Sarah’s Law. In England and Wales, it is possible to ask the police if someone who has access to a child has a record for child sexual offences. However, there is no guarantee that your application will be successful.
Staying safe online
Most children spend a considerable part of their day in the virtual world using social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest to name but a few. Whilst these apps are mostly used innocently for socialising or educational purposes there are predators who will use them to contact, groom and exploit children. It is important that caregivers involve themselves and learn about the virtual world so that they are equipped to help children to stay safe online.
There are many ways of doing this. Examples include the following:
- Make sure your child knows that they should not meet anyone they have met online.
- Communicate - talk about staying safe online.
- Use privacy settings and controls.
- If necessary, set house rules.
- Be aware of the sites/apps being used.
- Encourage children to speak out if they have a problem.
- Think about the information you post.
If your child becomes the victim of grooming, you should report the matter to the police immediately, who can prosecute the offender and hopefully bring him to justice. If they get convicted, consideration should be given to a possible civil compensation claim if the perpetrator has assets.
Emmott Snell Solicitors would like to recognise and highlight the invaluable work of Link to Change and other children’s charities and organisations who continue to work tirelessly to help and support children and young people.