The majority of sexual exploitation cases stay under the radar and are never reported. Victims become increasingly isolated by traffickers, so picking up signals early on is key. We want to use the potential of the unique perspective of classmates to help spot problems at an earlier stage. Our concept is Pulse; a peer to peer check-up system for minors, helping classmates pick up on and act on early signals of sexual exploitation. Creating a stronger group bond in the classroom and handing minors tools to signal and cope with difficult situations they or their peers experience.
The majority of sexual exploitation cases stay under the radar. According to experts, an important factor in cases that are reported is a trusted person close to the victim. In cases of sexual exploitation, however, the window for reaching the victim is small. Victims are impressionable and human traffickers aim to isolate their victims, severing ties with peers, parents and others who could be a link to outside help. There’s only a small window before the minor is isolated, so picking up on the right signals as early as possible is crucial.
For children that are at risk, a relatively stable factor is school. Teachers and staff are trained to recognise signs and guide young people. Nevertheless, spotting vulnerable or victimised kids is not an easy task for teachers with heavy workloads and more than 20 pupils in their classes.
Trust toward adults is very low among the vulnerable group. Troubles or worries are far more often shared with peers. Classmates have a unique perspective, seeing and hearing far more than adults do. Signals of exploitation, or other problems, could be picked up by classmates at an earlier stage.
We want to enable kids in the 12-17 age range to create a safety net made up of peers by introducing a buddy-check system in class. Our concept is Pulse: a buddy-check app for minors – giving minors tools to signal and cope with difficult situations they or their peers experience. Ultimately, helping kids to pick up and act on early signals of sexual exploitation.
How it works:
The app is introduced in the first year of secondary school. Four times a year, a topic will be introduced by the class mentor. After the introduction, the first student will receive the ‘pulse’ – an invite to anonymously buddy-check three randomised classmates. When three classmates have been checked, they then get an invite to do the same, until everyone has been checked.
A ‘check’ means either choosing ‘OK, ‘don’t really know’, or ‘I’m a bit worried’. In most cases one of the first two options will be chosen. But when worry is indicated, the app offers three different options:
- Check in with a trustee at school.
- If option one is too intimidating, the app offers information to better understand the situation, and advises on what actions can be taken. Such as talking to a trusted adult or contacting (online) help organizations.
- The third (possible) option is talking to a peer who might also have expressed worries about the same classmate.
After finishing all the checks, an anonymised overview is shown of the class, visualising the social fabric. Brighter pulsing dots highlight kids where concerns are raised. The frequency of the Pulse keeps social responsibilities at the forefront of the mind, and the overview of the class reminds the kids that they are all part of a group.
During the first year of secondary school, a trustee could also have a non-anonymous view. In later years, this could be fully anonymous. This of course should be openly discussed with students, and should be tested.