Crimestoppers has launched an urgent appeal to empower young people to speak out in the fight against crime and exploitation. Kate Stanley writes exclusively for The Northern Echo on the initiative.

“OUR lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter”.

Never before have those words famously spoken by activist Martin Luther King Jr been more fitting to a generation of young people stifled by fear, unwittingly embroiled in a world of child exploitation and violent crime.

Silence remains too easy to keep, both among the thousands of children involved in and affected by crime on a daily basis, and by those too scared to be labelled a ‘grass’ by speaking up.

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But the silence only gives power to the criminals. It instils fear, and it increasingly allows for the impact of crime to have a devastating effect on countless young lives.

The problem is becoming critical in the North East. Earlier this year, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool and Newcastle were named as some of the most potentially dangerous places to live for young people.

Children and teenagers in these areas are some of the most vulnerable and at risk of becoming involved in violent crime.

Charity Crimestoppers is acutely aware of the growing number of children thought to be controlled by gangs, and the many thousands being criminally and sexually exploited.

Its regional manager for the North East, Ruth McNee, said countless crimes go unreported every hour of the day through fear. Speaking out is not something that comes easily.

“Being labelled a grass is a terrifying prospect for young people and we have to start calling this out – it is behaviour that is keeping people in fear and maintaining their silence,” she explained.

The Northern Echo: fearless

“Our biggest concern is that the young people in our region just don’t know that they have the option to report crime anonymously. They believe there is no help for them if they don’t want to talk to the police, and that is not the case.”

In response, Crimestoppers will today launch an urgent, straight-talking campaign across the region in a bid to save the younger generation from feeling scared and helpless.

Through its online platform, the charity wants to empower and educate young people to speak up against crime anonymously and without fear of retribution.

Fearless aims to give young people a lifeline and provide a valuable service that is both accessible and trustworthy.

Ruth said: “Fearless engages and helps inform young people about crime, encouraging them to talk honestly about their worries or concerns, and in turn offers brutally honest information about criminal activity and its consequences.

“The charity wants to give young people the whole picture, without glamourising crime, to enable them to make informed decisions.”

Crimestoppers recognises the need to raise the profile of Fearless among young people, teachers, parents and carers. To ensure those who need to access the service know of its existence.

The Northern Echo: Fearless campaign Crime-stoppers regional manager Ruth McNee and Cleveland PCC Steve TurnerFearless campaign Crime-stoppers regional manager Ruth McNee and Cleveland PCC Steve Turner

Hefty resource packs have been sent out to more than 200 senior schools in the Cleveland, Durham and Northumbria areas, while a six-week, targeted digital campaign across Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook will open the conversation about a whole range of crimes that have operated in the shadows for too long.

Fearless is bold in its approach. It is calling on all professionals working with young children to be united in giving them a voice, while debunking the myths around crime.

It addresses knife and gun culture, child sexual exploitation, county lines, and the full extent of street crime, from vandalism and graffiti to arson, assault and burglary.

Tackling these hard-hitting issues with children as young as 11 across the North East has been identified as vital in order to help break the cycle.

Only last month, a report by Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery claimed rising deprivation in Northumberland is allowing gangs to ‘manipulate’ youngsters into the drug trade.

At the same time, concern was raised by Stockton Council’s senior officer Dave Willingham about the growing number of 12-year-olds committing offences in Teesside.

Earlier this year, a table compiled by the crime and justice consultancy, Crest Advisory, placed Middlesbrough in the top spot of towns where 11 to 17-year-olds were in danger of becoming involved in violence, the victim of violence or witnessing violence.

The report showed that some 4,335 were at risk - representing 37 per cent of all 11 to 17-year-olds in the Middlesbrough area. Hartlepool and Newcastle also came in the top ten towns on the list.

These worrying statistics are never far from the news feeds and Crimestoppers wants its Fearless service to address them urgently.

Ruth said: “What we do know is that young people who commit crime from an early age are especially likely to become habitual offenders with long criminal careers.

“The problem is, when young people are exploited, many don’t realise until it is too late. They become trapped, criminalised and they enter a downward spiral.

“Giving them the information necessary to avoid being exploited and led into criminality is key to prevent this happening.”

The campaign is backed with funding across the three areas from the Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner, Durham County Council and North-East housing association Karbon Homes.

Cleveland PCC Steve Turner said young people are valued members of society who need to feel confident enough to act when witness to criminal behaviour.

“When young people know more about criminal behaviour, they can feel more confident to challenge it, reject it and using Fearless - report it,” said Mr Taylor.

“I’m delighted that our funding means every secondary school in Cleveland will receive resources to teach students about all types of crime and the lasting impact it has on communities.

“Young people need to be shown that there is support to do the right thing - so they can grow into confident and productive adults, ready to take their place as the next generation of law-abiding citizens.”

Affordable housing provider Karbon Homes has also backed the campaign. Its assistant director Kelly Taylor said: “Our mission is to provide people with a strong foundation for life, a foundation from which they can fulfil their potential.

“Fearless provides a great way of doing this by empowering young people to make informed life choices away from crime. This in turn will help to create strong, sustainable and safe communities now, and in the future.”

To access Fearless and for more information visit:

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