A vital charity who work with young people experiencing emotional, physical or sexual abuse have been fighting exploitation in Harrow for 10 years. We discover how the expansion of internet use and cultural barriers are presenting the latest challenges in keeping teenagers safe.
For parents, the challenge to safeguard their children is ever increasing as social media opens the door into a world of potential exploitation and abuse.
Of course, the traditional hurdles that can lead teenagers into danger, self-harm – or even to feel suicidal – still exist: isolation, the breakdown of a family, crime and stress, however the WISH Centre's director Rowena Jaber and her dedicated team have had to adapt to the challenges of the new age in their 10 years of working in Harrow.
The charity, based in Peel Road, Wealdstone, works with 200 young people every year face to face who are struggling to cope, and have seen the landscape change first hand.
Rowena recounts several instances of young people being pressured into performing sex acts which are filmed on a phone and then used to blackmail them in what becomes a cycle of abuse. The tragedy: Many of the teenagers which come to WISH for help are girls aged 13 to 15, referred to the charity by their school and in a constant fear of being shamed.
Much of what WISH do is try to understand the ways in which young people use the internet as a way of engaging in preventative work which they feel many parents are not always capable of doing.
"I think parents do not have a clue about how their children are using the internet," Rowena said. "Kids and teens may be high achievers and do well in school, but when they're upstairs in their room on their laptop they could be doing anything online. That is what we here try to do: keep up with the vehicles that they are using in their lives."
The core message WISH want to convey to parents is to communicate with your children, because studies they have carried out in the streets of Harrow and Wealdstone have produced concerning evidence.
The data, taken this year, showed that 64 per cent know of young people know someone who has met up with someone they know on the internet, and 39 per cent know someone who has been pressured to pose in a sexual manner.
WISH's lead practitioner for sexual violence, Matilda De Santis, explained: "When young people do this, they are leaning on sexual attention as a validation and they do not know what to look for in identifying a threat until it is too late. Sometimes, they are not even aware it is happening and they do not know it is abuse."
A primary concern to WISH is that they believe from their work that the cultural make up of Harrow is struggling to reconcile itself with these latest challenges.
"The big thing in the media now is that it is Asian men are targeting white girls. In Harrow, it is a different story," Rowena added. "Here you have Asian men targeting Asian girls, because they know and understand the culture, they know how to pressurise and manipulate them into doing what they do not want to do."
Rowena's message to parents is to actively communicate with children on the problems in their lives, because there is too much at stake to let them being exposed to a cycle of exploitation.
"It's about them not being aware that by their children doing well in school and having a good family with a respect for their cultural values and history, they are also a part of teenage culture and the pressures that come along with that.
"Sexual abuse is a taboo subject among the Asian community really. Their community needs to start thinking about this issue and recognising that many of these problems stem from young men in their own community."
WISH are funded through donations from Children in Need, Sport Relief and are launching an awareness campaign called Harrow Shield through funding they have received from the Mayor of London.
For more information, visit www.thewishcentre.org.uk.