MORE help is needed for sexually exploited children in the UK, a report has found.
The ‘Whose Child Now’ report – backed by children’s charity Barnados – found a worrying trend of children being trafficked for sex, including in Kirklees.
But here steps are already being taken to tackle the problem.
Based on a survey of Barnardo’s 21 specialist sexual exploitation services, the report revealed around 80% of local authorities did not have any specialist work for sexually exploited children and young people.
The report also revealed more than 1,000 children had been referred to Barnardo’s after being sexually exploited over the course of last year (2007/8).
Barnados also revealed that of the 609 sexually exploited children and young people they are currently working with, 90 appear to have been trafficked within the UK – approximately one in six.
Recent research carried out in Yorkshire also identified children as young as 11 and 12 were being sexually exploited.
Barnardo’s Chief Executive Martin Narey said: “We don’t know the true extent of this problem, but we do know, however hidden from the public eye it might be, it affects many thousands of children.
“We shouldn’t have to do this work. But men are not going to stop the predatory sexual abuse of girls and, sometimes, boys.
“No national official records are kept on the number of children exploited in this way and wherever local authorities have asked Barnardo’s to research a potential problem, a number of sexually exploited children have always been identified.”
Barnardo’s has now called for all local authorities and Trusts to commision research in a bid to tackle the problem.
A Kirklees Council spokesman said it is one of the few councils that did actively work to combat the abuse of children.
A spokesman said: “We are aware of the growing recognition of child sexual exploitation and for many years the council has worked closely with the Barnado’s missing children project.
“In response, we have recently appointed a Safeguarding Improvement Officer. They will be the single point of contact and work to strengthen our co-ordinated response to help children who are in these circumstances.”
Toni Johnston, Assistant Director of Barnardo’s Yorkshire, said: “We believe that sexual exploitation is becoming more organised and the criminals who abuse are more sophisticated.
“There are networks of older men grooming and trafficking children within the UK. It’s a growing phenomenon and it’s extremely difficult to police.
“Another area of concern is the frightening number of children who go missing repeatedly and are found to have been sexually exploited.
“It’s a huge risk for young people and we are worried that it’s still largely being ignored.
“Make no mistake, what’s happening here is abuse of children and we have a duty to protect them.”
Barnados case study: The story of Karen aged 17
WHEN she was 11, one Huddersfield girl became involved with a bad crowd at school.
She started getting into trouble for smoking and fighting. After a final warning, she was excluded and moved to another school.
At the new school, a group of older children befriended the girl. We’ve called her Karen to protect her identity.
Karen was flattered by their attention and happy because they were popular and everyone wanted to be around them.
But after they left the school Karen started missing school to see them.
She said: “They were all out on a night and I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to go so I sneaked out.”
One night Karen was brought home almost unconscious by Jake, one of the older boys from the group.
She’d been made to drink nearly a full bottle of vodka and tests later showed that her drink had also been spiked with drugs.
At hospital Karen had to have her stomach pumped. She nearly died because they couldn’t get everything out.
Karen did recover but had to spend two weeks in hospital.
When she came out, Jake, who had brought her back, came round to see her. She thought because he’d brought her home and had come to see her that he was concerned about her and was looking out for her so she became friendly with him.
Karen started staying out with Jake and his friends and was not going home – and stopped going to school.
She was reported missing by her mother and the police made a referral to a Barnardo’s service.
A worker called Melanie from Barnardo’s went to see Karen. She talked to her and did an assessment of her situation and decided she was at risk of being sexually exploited.
Melanie said: “It took well over a year for us to feel that Karen was no longer at risk but we work with and stick with our young people for as long as it takes.”
Because of the concerns about Karen and other girls who go missing and the risks that they face, Barnardo’s liaises with the police where appropriate.
The police sent a warning letter to the house where Karen was staying with some men while she was missing.
But they thought Karen had arranged the warning, so turned nasty.
Karen said: “I came to see it wasn’t fun. I didn’t like being with them anymore and it wasn’t nice.”
The police wanted Karen to go to court to give evidence against the men by video but she wouldn’t press charges because she was scared.
Even when Karen tried to get away from the men, they used to park outside school and at the bus stop waiting for her. They sent notes to Karen through other young people at school.
“When I finished school in the summer I went to my grandparents to get away. I didn’t want to come back because I was frightened. The men were still emailing me and trying to get to me all the time.
After several months Karen did eventually go back home because she wanted to get on with her life and go to college.
For a while she still felt vulnerable and frightened as the men continually tried to make contact with her.
Despite this getting less and less as time has moved on, Karen still sees them about in the local area – a constant reminder of that chapter of her life.
But now, with Barnardo’s support she has found the strength to get her life back on track and is currently in further education.