Urgent action needed to protect children from sexual exploitation

Children playing
Published on Wednesday, 21 November 2012 09:35
Posted by Vicki Mitchem

A nationwide Inquiry by the Office of the Children's Commissioner has found that 2,409 children and young people were confirmed victims of child sexual exploitation in gangs or groups in the 14 month period from August 2010 to October 2011.

The Inquiry also identified that between April 2010 and March 2011 there were 16,500 children in England who were at high risk of child sexual exploitation. This is the equivalent of twenty medium-sized secondary schools.

"I thought I was the only one. The only one in the world", the report of the first year's findings of a two year Inquiry into child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups, publishes the most comprehensive investigation to date of the scale, scope and prevalence of child sexual exploitation in these contexts in England. The conclusions are drawn from extensive evidence submitted by the Government, police, local authorities, health services, voluntary sector agencies and children and young people themselves.

Young people quoted in the report describe experiences of rape and violence of a relentless nature, often lasting years. They live in well-founded fear of those who violate and control them.  Many suffer long-term physical, psychological and emotional harm as a result of their experiences.

The Office of the Children's Commissioner is calling for urgent action to protect vulnerable children from all forms of sexual exploitation. All agencies working with children should immediately ensure their operational staff are made aware of the list of warning signs of sexual exploitation which are published in this report.

These warning signs include: missing from home, care or school, repeated sexually transmitted infections, patterns of offending, misuse of drugs or alcohol, self harm and other physical injuries.

As part of the Inquiry, the University of Bedfordshire was commissioned to examine sexual violence in gangs. The emerging findings from this study are also published today.

Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England, said:

"This report is a wake-up call. Each and every one of us owes it to all victims to be vigilant, to listen and to act to stop the sexual exploitation of children. Identifying the warning signs listed in the report is the first step to identifying and protecting children.

"We welcome the increase in awareness of child sexual exploitation and the progress agencies have made in their approaches to tackling the issue. However, much still needs to be done to prevent exploitation and rescue child victims."

Sue Berelowitz, Deputy Children's Commissioner, who leads the Inquiry said:

"The reality is that each year thousands of children in England are raped and abused by people seeking to humiliate, violate and control them. The impact on their lives is devastating. These children have been abducted, trafficked, beaten and threatened after being drawn into a web of sexual violence sometimes by promises of love and sometimes simply because they know there is no alternative. This abuse and violence can be relentless and take place anywhere - as they go home from school, as they walk to the shops, in the their local park.

"The vast majority of the perpetrators are male and in both gang and group contexts, different models of exploitation have been identified. Perpetrators range in age from young adolescents to older men. The evidence is clear that they come from all ethnic groups and so do their victims - contrary to what some may wish to believe. This report does not shy away from the shocking realities of what is happening up and down the country.

"It is vital agencies improve the information they share about the victims and those at risk of sexual exploitation, so that children can be better protected."

Professor Jenny Pearce, University of Bedfordshire:

"Our interviews with children living in gang affected neighbourhoods across England leave us shocked by the extreme levels of sexual violence that are assumed to be inevitable in the everyday lives of the children concerned. Evidence shows routine serious sexual assault of girls for whom saying 'no' is not an option because they are threatened and forced into sex.  Although boys needed prompting to talk, they spoke about sex being used as both intimidation and humiliation between boys who are in conflict with each other.

"Our findings show there are few clear boundaries between child victims and child perpetrators: children often both being abused, and abusing others themselves.  Reporting of sexual violence is poor, with children feeling that nothing can be done to stop it, other than moving away from the area. This means we have some important questions to answer about the need for child protection and law enforcement strategies to work closely together to protect children."

The final report for the two-year Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups will be published in autumn 2013. Year two of the Inquiry will focus on how to tackle the sexual exploitation of children. The Inquiry will be investigating examples of good practice so that these lessons can be shared nationally.

Source: ©Children's commissioner

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