Focus on race in grooming cases ‘could lead to more risk’

The recent media and political focus on race issues within sexual exploitation cases could put more children and young people at risk, according to the new chief executive of Barnardo’s.

“From our experience, we know that in some areas ethnicity is a factor, but in many other areas it isn’t,” Anne Marie Carrie told Community Care. Carrie takes over this month from chief executive Martin Narey.

“If you focus on one model of sexual exploitation, children who are being exploited in different circumstances won’t see that it’s an issue for them as well. Young people who need support won’t come forward because they don’t fit the model that’s being presented.”

Carrie said one of her first initiatives in her new role as chief executive would be to try to push sexual exploitation up the child protection agenda.

Today, she used her first official day in office to launch a Barnardo’s campaign, Cut Them Free, and report, Puppet on a string: The urgent need to cut children free from sexual exploitation. Both urge the government to ensure that sexually exploited young people are given the same protection afforded to babies and younger children.

“At the moment, people aren’t seeing it as primarily a child protection issue, which is what it is,” she said. “I’m going to be calling on the secretary of state to lead on this as a child protection issue. We need to get the focus back on the victims,” Carrie said.

The report – which calls on education secretary Michael Gove to appoint a minister to take forward a national action plan on sexual exploitation – reveals worrying trends identified by a survey of the charity’s 22 specialist services. 

It found that child exploitation is becoming more organised and sophisticated in the UK. All but one of the services had worked with children who had been trafficked and moved between UK cities and towns, while perpetrators were increasingly found to be using the internet and mobile phones to target and groom children.

The research also reveals the risk for younger children is growing, with the average age of victims identified by the services falling from 15 to 13. Some services are even working with children as young as 10.

The report and campaign urges the government to take “radical action” to: raise awareness to improve early identification of child sexual exploitation; improve statutory responses and the provision of services; improve data on the prevalence of child sexual exploitation and improve prosecution procedures. 

Before taking her new post at Barnardo’s, Carrie was the first deputy chief executive and executive director of family and children’s services at the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

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