It may be left to a TV soap to push sexual exploitation of children further up the social care agenda. Camilla Pemberton reportsMillions of BBC viewers will next month watch in horror as a teenage character on EastEnders is groomed for sex by a predatory older man. The storyline is bound to shock but it has been devised to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation in the UK after some recent high-profile cases.The issue is already prominent. In November, nine men were convicted of grooming and abusing 25 under-age girls in Derby, two of whom were in care, before nine arrests for the alleged grooming of teenage girls in Rochdale this month.The sexual exploitation of under-age girls and boys is happening in towns and cities all over the UK, according to Sheila Taylor, chief executive of the charity Safe and Sound Derby.She said exploitation could range from seemingly “consensual” sexual relationships and exchanges of sex for accommodation or gifts to serious, organised crime.Read more by Camilla Pemberton on sexual exploitation
Manipulated, raped, discarded
For Sasha (not her real name), 16, EastEnders’ portrayal of a vulnerable girl who mistakes grooming and manipulation for flattery and attention will seem horribly familiar.
After meeting a group of men in her local park three years ago – “they seemed cool; they had cars and bought us things” – one coerced her into sex before three began to rape her regularly. Confused, because “one said he loved me”, and frightened – “they said they’d petrol bomb my house” – she became angry, violent and ill.
Eighteen months later, the men moved on to another victim. Sasha was relieved, but also distressed, having grown used to the attention.
She was identified as being at serious risk of further sexual exploitation by a youth worker who prevented her getting into a stranger’s car. He made a referral to children’s services so she could access regular treatment for her mental health needs and, if necessary, become looked after. He was told her case did not meet statutory thresholds.
Picture: Rex Features, model released
Engage!: Social workers have joined police, sexual health workers, NHS workers and the third sector to fight sexual exploitation in Blackburn with Darwen. Call: 01254 267 790
Local authority social workers work with Lancashire police force in a co-located team to tackle sexual exploitation. They have achieved a 96.8% conviction rate. More information: 01253 607063
Safe and Sound Derby A specialist charity committed to outreach work with sexually exploited children. It was praised in the Derby serious case review for helping to identify and support victims, and helping police to achieve convictions
Barnardo’s :has 22 specialist projects nationwide, including the highly regarded Secos (Sexual Exploitation of Children On the Streets) project in Stockton and Middlesborough.Just Whistle runs training and seminars on sexual exploitation
Spotting the signs
Use our interactive tool, assembled using recent research findings, to help you identify possible signs of child sexual exploitation.
Plans of action
Intervene early: Wendy Shepherd of Barnardo’s Secos project advises social work teams to consider the risk of sexual exploitation at the earliest opportunity, especially if a child goes missing.
“We need more research on what makes a child vulnerable to coercion,” she says, “but those with a history of sexual abuse are likely to be at particular risk. Monitor this, especially as they approach adolescence when confusing feelings can develop.”
With barbed wire-topped walls, swivelling CCTV cameras and start of the art finger-print sensors on every door, Clare Lodge is more secure than many adult prisons