The creation of a charity, from the very beginning.
It seems fitting that I finally reveal to you the main focus of my charity, a few days after the Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s launches their inquiry into the sexual exploitation of children by gangs. According to The Guardian, this inquiry is a result of a report from Bedfordshire University, which found that ‘three-quarters of councils are failing to implement measures to protect vulnerable young people’. Upsetting, yes; surprising, no.
The article in the Guardian on the 13th October, 2011, alluded to a few of the high-profile cases known about gangs of Asian men in Derby who systematically groom and exploit young people. However, I suspect, if you ask most people about sexual exploitation, their knowledge and understanding of it will not go much further than those articles reported in the mass media. Sexual exploitation is under-reported, under-researched and underestimated as a problem. The inquiry launched by the OCC on the 14th October, 2011, will be a two-year study in to the scale of sexual exploitation in England by youth street gangs. The inquiry will be led by the deputy Children’s Commisioner, Sue Berelowitz. She stated that ‘local authorities, police, health and education professionals and the judiciary will be forced to provide information about child sexual exploitation for the first time’.
Understanding the scale of the problem is only part of the battle. We need to understand how to identify sexual exploitation; how to reach those who are hidden in exploitative relationships and of course, how best to work with young people who are at risk of, or who have been sexually exploited. Similarly, it is not only youth gangs who exploit. There is worrying evidence from the National Working Group (NWG) to suggest that exploitation can often be a family business. I have concerns that many of these agencies and the professionals within them, who will be ‘forced’ to give information, will not adequately be able to identify the early stages of sexual exploitation (or indeed the latter stages) due to the lack of training and resources available. But my hope is that Sue Berelowitz will have thought about all the methodological problems of such an important study and that the results of the inquiry will only be the start of a determined and necessary campaign to tackle the sexual exploitation of young people.
Now where do I come in? Well, nowhere, yet. But even through my long periods of hibernation (*insert apologies to numerous family members and friends here* I AM NOT IGNORING YOU!) I am still working on how I can tackle this problem. My most recent disappearing act has been due to my dissertation. For my Social Work MA Dissertation, I am reviewing how UK social service departments respond to the sexual exploitation of young people and the effectiveness of relationship-based practice in this area. I think it’s crucial to understand what works before I set up an awareness campaign/drop-in centres/mentor support.
An author that has become central to my research is Jenny Pearce. Her qualitative research with sexually exploited young people suggests that what is missing for these young people is specialist outreach work which recognizes the extraordinary difficulties the young people experience and manages to sustain safeguarding despite the sometimes challenging behaviours. Additionally, many of the young people Jenny interviewed express a need to speak to someone they recognize and who they feel repsects them.
I want to make sure that I have a thorough and secure knowledge-base about sexual exploitation and best-practice before I start setting up the practical side of my charity. It is clear however, that there is a huge problem here that needs a lot of work. In the mean time, I urge everyone to read a little bit about sexual exploitation and make sure you can bore friends and family with your knowledge. Increased awareness starts NOW! http://www.nationalworkinggroup.org/
Fingers crossed, people – for Sue and for me!