Short films to highlight impact of paramilitary exploitation in Northern Ireland

A series of short films highlighting the impact of child criminal exploitation by paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland have been released today.

The Northern Ireland Executive’s Programme on Paramilitarism and Organised Crime (EPPOC) has released the first of a three part series that will show the harm caused by paramilitary groups and how they use violence, intimidation and coerce control to exploit people within the communities they are based.

Research by EPPOC has shown that 45% of young people in Northern Ireland are impacted by paramilitary groups, along with 40% of adults.

Read more: Young girls are being sexually exploited to cover drug debts by organised crime gangs

Read more: Concern over alleged use of children as '£10 touts' by PSNI

The short films will show three fictional case studies regarding a young woman, a 19-year-old man, and a community worker, with their stories being based on research conducted by Dr Colm Walsh from Queen’s University Belfast.

Justice Minister Naomi Long said: “The video series being launched today may be shocking, but to many it will be a familiar recognition of what so many young people face when growing up in our society.

“All young people in Northern Ireland are entitled to live in safety, achieve their full potential, and have their rights respected. Any form of child exploitation, coercion or violence is totally unacceptable and must be appropriately addressed. We need to break this cycle of harm in our communities, but addressing these issues is a complex matter and it requires a collective response across a variety of partners.

“However, much is being done to address these issues. The Executive Programme on Paramilitarism and Organised Crime supports people and communities across Northern Ireland who are vulnerable to paramilitary influence and harm.”

Adele Brown, Director of EPPOC, said: We created these short films to expose how young people are groomed, recruited, exploited, and harmed, by paramilitary criminal gangs. Evidence shows paramilitarism continues to affect up to 40% of adults and 45% of young people in Northern Ireland and in some areas these figures can be almost double. Preliminary research estimates this costs Northern Ireland a minimum of £0.5bn a year.

“These films do not shy away from the methods used by paramilitaries to recruit and exploit vulnerable people. Coercion, manipulation, and violence are many of the tactics deployed by paramilitaries and organised gangs to meet their own criminal ends.

“Our programme data reveals that the average age to witness paramilitary violence is 14-years-old and within this age group half have witnessed violence, a quarter have been threatened with violence and 8% have been attacked.

“Currently, the EPPOC programme is investing in over 100 projects across the community, voluntary and public sector with the aim of creating safer communities which are resilient to paramilitarism, criminality and coercive control. The programme funds activities that are designed to break the cycle of paramilitary harm in our communities. Our EA Connect Programme reduced young people’s intent to engage in violence from 43% to 3%. We understand that a sustained and collaborative approach can make a difference.

“By raising awareness of the hard-hitting issues in these films we hope to show that child criminal exploitation, violence, and intimidation inflicted by paramilitaries, have no place in our society.”

Dr Colm Walsh, lecturer in Criminology at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “ The Troubles normalised violence in many communities, making them the perfect breeding ground for paramilitaries and criminals to operate in. Today we are getting to grips with the hidden harms caused by these gangs such as child criminal exploitation, abuse of women, coercive control, economic crime, extortion, and gatekeeping.

"My research with Queen’s University has revealed examples of young people being actively groomed over a prolonged period of time, taking increasingly dangerous risks to undertake more serious forms of crime. Young people described activities such as violence, intimidation, extortion, property damage and the concealment of weapons. The study revealed there was significant overlap between Child Sexual Exploitation and Child Criminal Exploitation, with young men and women at risk of being exploited in different ways within criminal and non-criminal networks. The research also revealed that very often victims do not realise they are being manipulated and exploited.

“The three films use this research to show how today’s paramilitaries use coercive and controlling behaviours to ruthlessly groom and abuse young people. The films shine a light on how paramilitary groups and gangs target and manipulate young people and the devastating impact this has on them.

“In the coming months these films will form the basis of an educational workshop where practitioners will screen the videos as a means to engage with groups of young people about the issues highlighted.”

For all the latest news, visit the Belfast Live homepage here. To sign up to our FREE newsletters, see here.