Barnardo’s ‘Stop It Before It Starts’ programme targets boys at risk of sexual exploitation in Hackney

Rich Faulding from Barnardo's at the launch of the programme

Rich Faulding from Barnardo's at the launch of the programme - Credit: Archant

A groundbreaking programme to prevent boys and young men from being sexually exploited has been rolled out in Hackney.

Stop It Before It Starts was conceived by children’s charity Barnardo’s to educate vulnerable young people who could be at risk of child abuse of what to be aware of - before it actually happens.

Rich Faulding who is delivering the project here said: “We live in a reactive society, where we usually react after the bad stuff happens, but the beautiful thing about this project is we are getting in there early, hence the name. The idea is to get to the vulnerable kids so that hopefully they don’t get pulled into exploitative relationships.”

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a form of child abuse, which occurs when anyone under the age of 18 is persuaded, coerced or forced into sexual activity in return for money, drugs, alcohol, gifts, affection or status. Consent is irrelevant, and a child may believe they are voluntarily engaging in sexual activity. CSE doesn’t always involve physical contact and may occur online.

Mr Faulding said: “As a society we have struggled with spotting child sexual exploitation, if you look at Rotheram and Derby and even the BBC.

“We are getting better but the one thing that we are bad at spotting is boys and young men. Across our culture there tends to be a gender bias and it’s easy to box them in terms of offending and violent behaviour - but we don’t see them as a victim.

“If you have experienced abuse of any kind then you will act out in some way because you have been really damaged by that abuse.

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“Some boys might be the quiet kid at the back of the class but others might be challenging aggressive and loud ways, and lads might be pulled into gangs and crime.

“We struggle to look past these loud externalising behaviours and see the victim underneath.”

The programme involves three years of targeted work, and Mr Faulding will be working with young people one-to-one as well as with their parents.

“It is pretty much groundbreaking,” said Mr Faulding. “When you think of where the funds are, often it’s for the kids that have experienced that stuff already.

“It’s incredibly exciting and incredibly worthwhile - to stop these kids going through this is just the most rewarding thing.”