Nick McPartlan: "A multi-service agency is the best way of fighting against sexual exploitation"
During the Congress seminar to explore the local and regional dimensions of the Council of Europe ONE in FIVE Campaign to stop sexual violence against children, Nick McPartlan, a social worker in Blackburn (United Kingdom), presented the measures taken by Blackburn to improve detection of sexual violence against children and put a stop to it.
You are the team manager of the “Engage” project, which consists in mobilising all municipal departments to combat sexual exploitation and make young people and families more aware of this danger. What do you actually do in practice?
Nick McPartlan: The child protection, health and police departments are located in the same building to facilitate a multi-agency approach. If we get the impression that a child is under threat, either because it has come to the notice of one of our departments or because the child has turned to us for help, we offer appropriate support with, where necessary, a social worker to supervise the child. If necessary, we initiate criminal proceedings against the adult who is exploiting the child sexually.
How do you detect that a child may have need of your services ?
Nick McPartlan: We have drawn up a list which helps us to recognise changes in a child’s behaviour that may indicate that he or she is the victim of sexual violence. Some of the signs we have identified are when children start to drink alcohol or take drugs, run away from home, suddenly change the way they dress, do less well at school, and so on. This helps us to discover hidden violence and to take appropriate action. Some children are more vulnerable than others and they must be given priority, but our activities also target young people in general to encourage them to talk about these subjects. We also want the whole population to talk openly about such problems as it is by discussing them that we will be able to solve them and not by turning a blind eye! For example, in February 2012, we held a photo exhibition in a major shopping centre on this theme as a means of drawing the public’s attention to the problem
Are local elected representatives sufficiently aware of the importance of combating sexual violence against minors?
Nick McPartlan: We are virtually the only town in England that has established a system of co-operation and detection like Engage. A recent study showed that only a third of British municipalities take a genuine interest in preventing this type of violence and do something about it. And there are even fewer whose work is efficient and co-ordinated! Local elected representatives need to be made much more aware of this type of violence and they need to take effective measures – not only punitive but also preventive and educational measures. That is why we think our multi-agency approach, which focuses on children, is an effective response. The Council of Europe ONE in FIVE campaign is perfectly in line with our view of things and that is why we are pleased to have the opportunity to present our local experiment at international level for the first time.