Last week I was fortunate enough to be a part of the VERU Conference (Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit) focusing on Exploitation through the lens of parents.

Tough subject. But a key message from one of the first speakers, Graham Goulden, was around the role of communities in addressing this problem.

Perhaps most of us are fortunate to feel safe in our homes and our communities, hopefully most of us will not have been the victims of violent crime and therefore our awareness of it is removed from our conscious thoughts.

However, some of us will have witnessed or experienced some form of aggression, either passive aggression or physical aggression and at that point we have a choice. A choice to stand up or to pass by and not to get involved.

Violence and exploitation does not start with gangs, knives and drugs. It does not suddenly appear during the teenage years out of nowhere. Perpetrators of violence and exploitation are not just hooded youths, they can be seemingly respectable and responsible adults who hold down good jobs and live in nice neighbourhoods. You see, those who violate or exploit others have often been allowed to develop and refine their skills over years.

Frequently, victims and perpetrators are the same people. Physical violence usually starts with words; with learned behaviours and attitudes formed in childhood. School bullying, cruelty to others and unkind words and actions; manipulative behaviour and the desire to coerce or control others.

Spotting the red flags early on can make the difference between someone getting the right help and someone going on to commit more serious acts of violence or exploitation later in life.

At The Seeds of Change we see victims and perpetrators. Both need our support. Getting to the root of the emotion behind the behaviour can help to unlock the solution and enable either party to shift their position. The perpetrator to take ownership for their emotions and express them in a more appropriate way and the victim to build confidence and self-esteem, empowering them to feel that they have a choice and can make a change.

In our communities, though, we can all make a difference. As Graham said: “We promote what we permit.” If we do nothing when we observe these behaviours we are saying that it is ok for people to behave or be treated in this way.

No victim is to blame. As adults let’s not be bystanders, let’s promote positive and respectful treatment of each other in our actions and model these behaviours in our children.

For more information about the signs of exploitation and what you can do if you suspect someone is being exploited, visit the VERU website for lots of useful information and contact details of who to reach out to and what you can do:

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