Hundreds of North East children could be 'hidden' victims of crime, says Crimestoppers

By Hannah Graham

Children across the North East may be being exposed to crime - and too afraid to speak up.

So says charity Crimestoppers, as it launches a new initiative aimed at educating youngsters about crime, and giving them an anonymous way to report it.

Figures shared by the charity show that, nationwide, 46,000 children are thought to be involved in gangs and thousands more "criminally and sexually exploited".

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Whilst it says it is "hard to quantify" exactly how many are impacted in the North East, the charity claims: "anecdotal evidence suggests that potentially hundreds [of children] could be hidden victims across the region."

Ruth McNee, Crimstoppers' regional manager for the North East, told ChronicleLive the project would help youngsters whose friends, family or even wider community might be suggesting certain behaviours are acceptable or normal "make educated or more informed choices", as well as raise awareness of the signs of criminal exploitation.

Meanwhile, with as many as one in five children witnessing domestic abuse, education and an anonymous platform lets children know they can reach out for help without risking retribution from adults in their lives.

She said: "We talk about what it looks like to be exploited, how it can start, how absolutely anybody can be fooled by these criminals, so that children can recognise it if it happens to themselves or a friend.

"At Crimestoppers we're used to talking about anonymity and how hard it is to report a crime, especially if you know the person, but with children that can be so much worse.

"They are still in an environment where being 'a grass' is one of the worst things you can be called. But young people do want to help, they are desperate to help, but they just don't know how to sometimes."

A particular focus will be on exploitation by criminals, such as those who run "county lines" drug trafficking organisations. Such criminals, Ruth said, prey on vulnerable or isolated youngsters, initially "befriending" them, before persuading them to carry out criminal activity on their behalf. Warning signs for such exploitation including skipping school, having sudden access to cash, or unexplained injuries and looking fearful.

Whilst pledging the same total anonymity as Crimestoppers, the Fearless project, which will be advertised through six-week digital campaign today across social media, as well as in schools, is intended to make sure often-overlooked young people know they have a place to turn.

Ruth added: "One of the things that keeps me awake at night is the thought that a young person might know something, might be scared because they know someone is going to get hurt, they might not feel able to go to the police, they might not have a trusted adult to go to, and that feeling is just awful."

Funding to help make teachers and young people aware of the project comes from Cleveland’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Durham County Council and the North East housing association Karbon Homes.

Steve Turner, PCC for Cleveland said: “I am committed to helping cut youth crime which is why I’ve given this crucial funding, And as a result, Fearless – part of charity Crimestoppers - will now be able to to provide all educational establishments for 11–16-year-olds with a pack of educational resources covering weapons crimes, CSE, county lines and street crime, as well as a range of posters and a pack of Fearless playing cards.

“This will give teachers across the region the tools and knowledge about these crimes that typically affect young people more than adults to enable them to discuss them in school.”

Kelly Taylor, Assistant Director at Karbon Homes, added: “We are thrilled to be supporting Crimestoppers in this important campaign to prevent young people getting involved with crime.

"Our mission is to provide people with a strong foundation for life, a foundation from which they can fulfil their potential. Fearless provides a great way of doing this by empowering young people to make informed life choices away from crime. This in turn will help to create strong, sustainable and safe communities now, and in the future.“

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