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'Huge increase in child sexual exploitation' in Inverness prompts new service

By Andrew Dixon

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Inside the new hub.
Inside the new hub.

Young people at the risk of "becoming targets for criminal or sexual perpetrators" are being offered more support from today.

Barnardo’s Scotland is leading the help for people aged 13-18 in Inverness and the surrounding area at risk of involvement in antisocial behaviour.

The charity's director Martin Crewe said: “Delivering the service in this area is vital as research from Police Scotland has revealed a huge increase in child sexual exploitation since 2015. And since October 2021, more than 85 young people under the age of 18 have been identified as subjects of risk and exploitation.”

The Anchor Project, which was officially launched today, has received more than £450,000 from the Scottish Government’s CashBack for Communities scheme.

Inside the new hub.
Inside the new hub.

It is designed to "create a detached youth work service with safe space in Inverness to focus on teenagers who may be subject to exploitation".

A spokesperson said: "The Hub will offer a safe space for young people to reduce the number of young people congregating in unsafe locations.

"As well as the Hub space, which is based in the city centre, the Anchor team will engage with young people through street work in the areas where they are known to congregate in order to build trusting relationships."

Working in collaboration with Action for Children and Aberlour, it expects to support around 60 young people each year for the next three years.

Jim Wallace, director of children and families at Aberlour, said: “There has been an alarming increase in the number of vulnerable young people on the streets of Inverness and we have been deeply concerned for their welfare. By working collaboratively, we can expect to achieve much better outcomes for these young people.”

The Anchor Service will support young people throughout evenings and at weekends, and will also provide telephone and text services.

Inside the new hub.
Inside the new hub.

Mr Crewe added: “We will engage with young people and will use outreach to build relationships and establish trust with young people who are less likely to seek support."

Fiona Steel, Action for Children’s acting director for Scotland, said: “We are proud to join forces with Barnardo’s Scotland and Aberlour in our shared commitment to protecting vulnerable young people in Inverness and the surrounding area.

"I am confident that by working together with Barnardo’s Scotland and Aberlour we can best utilise our experience and resources to support the young people in the Highlands and protect them from the dangers of exploitation.”

One of the young people already being supported by the service said: “The Anchor Service is helping to create a safer future for young people like me. It’s an environment that has love and support and a place to escape worries and troubles that we face outside of those doors.”

Detective Chief Inspector Calum Smith said: "Police Scotland is committed to tackling child abuse and exploitation in all its forms, both physical and online.

“Partnership working is key and we work with a range of agencies to reduce risk and ensure the right support is in place to prevent children becoming victims of people who seek to exploit young people in our communities.

“Child sexual exploitation is often hidden, with perpetrators using violence, coercion and intimidation to exert power over children. Children may not realise they are being exploited or may be too afraid to ask for help.

“We are also committed to bringing offenders to justice and we would urge anyone with any information or concerns about anyone’s activity around children to contact police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”

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