Survivor’s powerful speech raises awareness of child exploitation

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Tackling the exploitation of vulnerable children and young people was at the heart of a conference in Canterbury last week.

Leading experts in the field were at Canterbury College on Thursday 14 March to raise awareness among the 180-strong audience of professionals about the varied and complex reasons why children and young people fall victim to exploitation.

Rotherham survivor Sammy Woodhouse was among the speakers at the conference, organised jointly by the Canterbury Community Safety Partnership, Canterbury Local Children’s Partnership and Kent County Council’s Early Help and Preventative Services.

A successful author, campaigner, fundraiser and commentator, Sammy shared her harrowing personal experience of mental, physical and sexual abuse from the age of 14 and provided a unique insight into how victims are manipulated and the devastating impact on them.

She was followed by Jessica Eaton, the founder and owner of Victim Focus and renowned expert in the field of sexual violence and mental health. She challenged the culture of blaming the victims of child sexual exploitation rather than the perpetrators.

The Children’s Society also presented a hard-hitting video, County Lines, written and directed by Henry Blake, and Kent Police and the county council shared their latest working practices aimed at tackling the issues.

Suzi Wakeham, Canterbury City Council’s Director of Community Services and Chair of the Canterbury Community Safety Partnership, said: “Child exploitation is not restricted by geography, social class or any other defined community. It can happen anywhere.

“It’s widely recognised that safeguarding children is everyone’s responsibility and events like this are hugely important in challenging our approaches to make sure we can provide the very best services and care for the children in our district.

Sammy Woodhouse addresses delegates at the child exploitation conference in Canterbury

“We were delighted that so many local practitioners took part in the day and that Kent County Council was able to attract such brilliant speakers whose passion, direct experience and depth of knowledge was truly inspiring.”

Rob Jobe, Kent County Council’s Early Help District Manager, said: “The event helped professionals from a range of key agencies to consider the wide range of criminal and sexual exploitations of children and young people and provided an opportunity to explore how we can work together to address these.”

​Sally Ward, Chair of the Canterbury Local Children’s Partnership Group, said: ​​“The awareness-raising event was a truly inspirational day. It was so encouraging to see such a wide range of professionals in one room and our speakers delivered challenge and a breadth of lived experience which was truly impactful for the audience.

“I am very proud to be part of such an innovative event and look forward to more collaborative working and further actions within the Canterbury district.”

Save the Children defines child exploitation as follows:

Child exploitation refers to the use of children for someone else’s advantage, gratification or profit often resulting in unjust, cruel and harmful treatment of the child. These activities are to the detriment of the child’s physical or mental health, education, moral or social-emotional development. It covers situations of manipulation, misuse, abuse, victimisation, oppression or ill-treatment.

There are two main forms of child exploitation that are recognised:

Sexual exploitation: the abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust for sexual purposes; this includes profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the exploitation of another as well as personal sexual gratification. This includes child prostitution and trafficking of children for sexual abuse.

Economic exploitation of a child: the use of the child in work or other activities for the benefit of others. This includes, but is not limited to, child labour and the use of children in criminal activities including the sale and distribution of narcotics.


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