A SHEFFIELD father is taking an extended break from his business to help raise awareness of young people in the UK being groomed and sexually exploited.
With three young daughters of his own, Darren Bristow feels that not enough is being done to protect the victims.
More than 2,000 cases of young people as young as 10 being abused were reported to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre in 2011 but Darren – along with many experts – feels that is merely the tip of the iceberg.
He said: “The nature and scale of child grooming and sexual exploitation is not accurately known, which makes it crucial that local communities become sensitive to the tell-tale signs.
“Truancy, challenging behaviour and the sudden appearance of new clothes, mobiles and jewellery are just some of the signs of a victim being groomed.
“Perpetrators are clever and will manipulate victims in such a way that they believe they are in a loving relationship and are willing to do anything for their older ‘boyfriend’.
“Once trust is gained, victims are threatened, sexually exploited and locked into a situation which is hard to escape from.
“Victims are often moved between gangs in different towns and cities – so people should keep a close watch on hotels next to local railway stations and vacant ex-industrial land. These sites are commonplace in all of our communities.’’
Darren was a co-founder of Sheffield-based web designers and online strategists QUBA but is now taking a sabbatical to devote his time to newly-launched social enterprise Eyes Open Creative.
He and the team have put together a resource pack – Love or Lies? – which they hope to see in every secondary school in the UK by the end of this year.
It includes a film by Virginia Heath and Grant Keir, My Dangerous Loverboy, which was piloted in Sheffield schools. The aim was to distribute it nationally but, after failing to attract funding, Darren decided to act. He said: “I just thought, if the Government is not going to do this, I’ll do it myself.”
He launched Eyes Open Creative with a loan and grant from the Key Fund last year and the team includes specialist advisers Rachel Reynolds and Jayne Kerr.
According to children’s charity Barnados, advances in technology and an overall lack of awareness are to blame for a surge in child grooming and sexual exploitation.
The rise in street grooming has prompted much in the way opf investigations and national guidance, with a newly-appointed minister as Lead on Child Sexual Exploitation and the launch of a National Action Plan. But little is being done on the ground to start actively raising awareness.
Darren said: “Sexually exploitative experiences can cause young people long-term physical, mental and emotional damage and it’s crucial that a preventative educational approach is put in place before they become victims.’’
Eyes Open Creative, c/o QUBA, Belgravia House, 115 Rockingham Street, Sheffield, S1 4EB. Tel: 279 4920; www.mydangerousloverboy.com
If you or someone you know is at risk, call Childline on 0800 1111 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.