Harrogate youth group create comic highlighting child sexual exploitation

Members of the Safe and Sound group at the launch of Web of Lies (s)
Members of the Safe and Sound group at the launch of Web of Lies (s)

A group of young people in Harrogate have created a graphic novel to raise awareness of the warning signs of child sexual exploitation.

The graphic novel, entitled Web of Lies, follows the story of 14-year-old Kelly who is flattered when an older boy starts paying attention to her.

However, as the comic unfolds, the relationship begins to spiral out of control as Kelly’s boyfriend reveals a dark, controlling side.

The novel will be used at PSHE lessons and the group is now working on a school resource for students to use with the novel.

Web of Lies was created by members of Safe and Sound, a group of young people who meet at Trax Centre in Harrogate with county council youth worker Sara Atkins.

Sara said the group wanted to create a piece of work to highlight the importance of personal safety and the warning signs of risky behaviour for young people in Harrogate.

She said: “The young people themselves had to do a lot of research into the subject and the different stages of the crime, particularly the grooming process.

“It can be difficult to spot the exploitation in the early stages because the children don’t know they are being drawn in so the novel tries to educate them about this.

“Teachers are brilliant at teaching young people about this but it’s far more powerful if young people themselves are getting this message across. This is why we created the novel and school resource.”

Sara said she wanted to make it clear to children and parents that sexual exploitation isn’t just an inner-city problem, it affects people in Harrogate and across North Yorkshire.

In October 2015, North Yorkshire Police revealed that, in just six months, they received 17 notifications of individuals across the district using the Internet to commit offences against children.

Superintendent Mike Walker stressed children from ‘normal families’ in Harrogate were at risk of being targeted.

The members of Safe and Sound explained they wanted to create something unique to help young people understand the grooming process.

Police have already warned that, with more children accessing the internet and social media, the opportunity for child abuse has never been greater.

Prof Nick Frost, chair of the North Yorkshire Safeguarding Children Board said: “As adults, we have the legal responsibility for keeping young people safe.

“But it is young people who can best understand the reality of abuse and communicate this to their peers.”