10/14/2011

Youngsters Among Gangs Who Abuse Children

It is feared that more than 10,000 children are being sexually exploited by gangs - and that more than a quarter of the abusers are children themselves.

A new report warns that children's services are failing to grasp the complexity of the problem.
Report author Professor Jenny Pearce, from Bedfordshire University , told Sky News: "When we think about grooming we tend to think of an adult abusing a young girl. But young people themselves are abusing each other.
"It raises questions for all of us. What are we doing to our children that means they are sexually abusing each other?"
Prof Pearce answers herself: "We are not providing awareness in schools, not talking about what is a healthy relationship.
"Young people also don't have access to youth services and training, and then you get gang cultures where sexual violence is normalised.
"Some young people don't even understand what rape is. They may describe rape but they don't call it rape, it might be just what they consider being part of a relationship."
By the age of 14, Sarah was regularly being sexually exploited by older men.
She would run away from home, take drugs and sleep with men so that she had a roof over her head.
"I was 14. I was having sex with my boyfriend and some other boys came into the room and he looked like he was expecting them to come and I went to get dressed and they wouldn't let me... I didn't do anything to stop them. They sort of raped me."
It seems Sarah's story is shared by thousands of children in the UK.
The university's report says children's services set up by the government are doing very little to tackle the problem.
Three quarters of Local Safeguarding Children's Boards are not properly recording child exploitation. In half the country there is no awareness training about the issue.
The report says: "Only a quarter of the country has current protocols with coordinators to oversee the work in operation. Well over half of the survey respondents had 'no plans' for developing a protocol or strategy."
The report goes on to say that prosecutions of abusers are rare, and where they happen "the young person's experience of court can be intolerable".
Last year, in Derby, nine men were found guilty of offences ranging from rape to intimidating witnesses. Their victims totalled 27 teenage girls.
Det Supt Debbie Platt, who led the police investigation, said: "I was personally shocked at the scale of the abuse we uncovered. It hadn't been reported and it was happening under the radar. It was like a campaign of rape against children."
The Office of the Children's Commissioner has just launched a two-year inquiry to try to tackle the problem.
Deputy Children's Commissioner Sue Berelowitz told Sky News: "We're looking into something very hidden but there are ways of finding out who those children are, such as looking at behavioural changes, children running away from home or care homes, children with multiple terminations - there are quite a lot of indicators."
:: Got a tip-off for the Investigations Team?  Email investigations@skynews.com

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