Facing down exploitation

“We jumped up and down, we just couldn’t believe it,” says Ann
Manzi, project leader of the Fighting Against Child Exploitation
(Face) project describing how the team felt on winning the
Community Care child protection award.

Face is a forum in Dundee for young people who have been, or who
have been affected by, sexually exploitation. It is a very good
advertisement for what can be achieved by a small group of
committed young people with the support of professionals. It was
developed against a backdrop of children feeling stigmatised and
criminalised because of their involvement in sexual exploitation,
and professionals feeling ill-equipped to deal with their

Face gives young people the chance to meet for two hours each week
to discuss issues that concern them and to push the issue of child
sexual exploitation up the political agenda and get it recognised
as a child protection issue. The results of their work have helped
professionals understand the problems that young people face and
how best to help them, and have helped other children to look after
themselves and keep safe.

It is run by a multi-agency team made up of service manager Ann
Manzi from the Polepark Family Centre, run by Barnardo’s, who
oversees the project’s work; Jan Johnstone, resource worker, Dundee
social work department; and Sharon Bushnell, project worker at the
Corner Young People’s Health and Information project. None of the
staff are full time, and devote their time to Face as well as
managing busy workloads.

Johnstone says that in January 2000 the social work department and
the local police became aware that there was child prostitution and
other forms of sexual exploitation taking place in the area.

“We were trying to deal with the situation through the child
protection system, but felt there must be other approaches. We
arranged a visit to the Barnardo’s Streets and Lanes projects in
Bradford which had been successfully working with young people in
the same situation.

“Last year we set up a working group and looked at how we could
work in an inter-agency way – there was a will to tackle the
problem, but nobody was quite sure how to deal with the complex
issues involved including drugs, relationships and sexual

“The young people were keen to become involved and wanted to meet
on a long-term basis to campaign and raise awareness so we put in a
bid for social inclusion money from Scottish Enterprise Tayside to
help develop a service for this group. The bid was successful, and
we invited Barnardo’s to manage it,” Johnstone says.

Face now meets for two hours every Friday with seven young men and
women, to talk about the issues they feel are important to other
young people at risk from sexual exploitation. In addition, the
young people have produced a magazine, Ace, which was
widely distributed to agencies working with young people.

“The magazine has gone down very well – it was cited by the Social
Work Services Inspectorate as an example of best practice – and we
have had to reprint it to meet demand,” says Bushnell.

“It’s a great tool for communicating with young people who were
concerned that sexual exploitation was a taboo subject and that
nobody knew how to talk about it. Sometimes workers would use the
wrong language, which made the young people feel that they were
being blamed for what had happened to them,” she adds.

For the young people, the sense of achievement it gives them cannot
be overestimated. “It’s an incredible boost to their self-esteem to
write an article – often in their lives before they have failed at
a lot of things so to have an article published feels great,” says
Manzi. “The young people see this very much as their work –
something they are expert in because they know more than anyone.
They know what works and what doesn’t and what to say to make
people listen,” she emphasises.

The project’s achievements do not end there, and the young people
have been involved in training at a multi-agency event with Tayside
police, education, social work health and voluntary agencies, and
at an event for residential workers in Dundee.

They also helped to devise a workshop for the No Child of Ours
conference in Glasgow, which they also attended as delegates, and
lobbied the Scottish executive to be involved in its working group
on children abused through prostitution. As a result, the executive
visited Face last summer and used their views to inform the working
group’s consultation paper, which has now been
published.1 And, later in the year, they are being
invited to a reception hosted by the Lord Provost in recognition of
the value of their work.

The project has also designed a website that it hopes will be up
and running soon. Devised and written by the young people, they
employed a graphic designer to make it user-friendly and
interesting for young people. It contains articles, interactive
stories, quizzes and puzzles. Johnstone says: “It’s really
informative and fun and we hope it will raise awareness among young
people about how to keep healthy and how young people can be
groomed for abuse.”

She believes this is really important: “One of the things I have
found through this is that young people find it very difficult to
acknowledge that they are being groomed and that is an area we are
constantly reinforcing.”

Winning the award was a highlight of last year, and the project is
now looking to the future with plans to use the award money to
produce an animated video that could be shown in schools. However,
what the project really needs to secure its continuing success, is
funding and staff resources. The fact that Face isn’t a full-time
project is difficult, and all those involved in this complex and
challenging work could easily devote all their time to it.

“Because the project only meets once a week you are not able to
sustain the service as you would like to because you don’t have the
resources,” Manzi says.

“The young people’s lives are so complex and they don’t have the
support other young people take for granted. Although they are
motivated, other events in their lives take over and they need an
incredible amount of support to be able to make their
contributions,” adds Johnstone.

In a bid to secure the future, a sexual exploitation development
worker is being recruited and one of their key roles will be to
identify funding for the project with a view to being able to
continue, and hopefully, expand the service.

“Young people would like one place where they could go where they
could have access to a range of services and still continue this
kind of work,” says Manzi. “That’s what we would hope to achieve
and that’s what we are working towards.”

1 Scottish executive, Young
Runaways and Children Abused Through Prostitution
, 2003,


– The child protection category was sponsored by Five Rivers Family


  • To empower young people to fight against their own exploitation
    and that of others. 
  • To campaign for national and local awareness of the issues
    around child sexual exploitation. 
  • To reframe the issue as a child protection issue. 
  • To raise awareness of child sexual exploitation among young
    people and to educate them about the risks. 
  • To achieve better communication between young people who have
    been sexually exploited and agencies involved in delivering
    children’s services.

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