Tackling child sexual exploitation is already slipping off the agenda in some local areas due to funding pressures, research by Barnardo’s has revealed.
A report by the children’s charity, published today, surveyed 21 of its specialist services across the UK and found the abuse did not appear to be a priority in some areas, with two services reporting that sexual exploitation had been downgraded as a priority in their area over the last year.
The charity also found that awareness raising, such as the delivery of school sessions on sexual exploitation, had reduced by 30% over the last year, while recognition and acknowledgement of the abuse remained “patchy”.
This is despite the government’s recent commitment to eradicating child sexual exploitation in the UK.
The number of sexual exploitation victims helped by Barnardo’s has risen, however – by 8.4% to 1,190 young people. The charity said the crime is becoming “ever more complex and pernicious”, while the research found the majority of grooming is now conducted in private.
One in 10 child victims over the last year were male, the data revealed, while one in six victims have been trafficked and moved from town to town, with the figure rising to as high as one in two young people in some areas. Nearly half (44%) have run away from home.
One in three services also reported a marked increase in peer-to-peer exploitation, where young people recruit other young victims on behalf of their abusers.
Anne Marie Carrie, chief executive of Barnardo’s, said: “We have been campaigning for more help for these vulnerable girls and boys for a year now and we will not let it slide. Too many children from all walks of life can so quickly be caught up in a world of drugs, violence and sex – this is a sickening slur on our society and we must do all we can to end it.”
Enver Solomon, policy director at The Children’s Society, said the report’s findings echoed their own projects and research, adding that the problem needs to be addressed urgently.
“We join with Barnardo’s in calling on local authorities to commit to tackling this shocking crime,” Solomon said. “There has been a significant commitment from central government and we must see this translated into real change at a local level.”
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