Every town and city in the UK is blighted by sexual exploitation and child victims go unidentified as tell-tale signs are missed due to a lack of awareness “from frontline children’s services to the corridors of Whitehall”, a leading charity has said.
Anne Marie Carrie, who takes over as Barnardo’s chief executive, said the children at the heart of the issue “have been forgotten as discussion has focused on the ethnicity of perpetrators in high-profile cases”.
Her comments come as the UK’s child protection agency launched an investigation into on-street grooming after former home secretary Jack Straw accused some Pakistani men in Britain of seeing white girls as “easy meat” for sexual abuse.
Ms Carrie called for a minister to be put in charge of the Government’s response, saying that “without a minister with overall responsibility the Government response is likely to remain inadequate”.
Urgent action is needed to protect thousands of young girls and boys who are being preyed upon and then abused, raped and exploited for sex, she said.
“Although I thoroughly welcome the recent attention around the issue, the children at the heart of this crime have been forgotten as discussion has focused on the ethnicity of perpetrators in high-profile cases,” Ms Carrie said.
“Barnardo’s knows that sexual exploitation is going on in every town and city in the UK and child victims continue to go unidentified as tell-tale signs are overlooked due to a lack of awareness that stretches from frontline children’s services to the corridors of Whitehall.”
Barnardo’s has called for all professionals to be made aware of the tell-tale signs of sexual exploitation in an effort to improve early identification of child sexual exploitation. Evidence and data on the numbers of exploited children should also be improved, along with prosecution procedures to increase the number of cases leading to a conviction, particularly in supporting child victims to act as witnesses, it said.
Last week, Peter Davies, chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (Ceop) centre, said the sexual exploitation of children cannot be “simplified along ethnic lines where the victims constitute one ethnicity and offenders another”.
The centre’s “thematic assessment” of the issue will establish “whether it is accurate to identify any patterns of offending, victimisation or vulnerability within these cases”, and will report in three to six months, a spokesman said.