THE BLOG

There Is No Quick Fix for Child Sexual Exploitation

18/02/2015 09:51 GMT | Updated 19/04/2015 10:59 BST

Recent weeks have given us a sobering reminder of the dreadful impact of child sexual exploitation. The further revelations regarding Rotherham coupled with the announcements of new investigations in Manchester, Halifax and Essex, reinforce the belief that we are only beginning to scratch the surface of this emerging national blight.

Today the Office of the Children's Commissioner for England made clear the scale of the challenge ahead. It revealed that half the agencies investigated have still not identified any victims in their area at all. Barnardo's runs specialist child sexual exploitation services in 47 locations across the UK - and wherever we go we find children who need our support. Last year we worked with more than 2,000 children, some as young as 11.

We need to do more and Barnardo's has launched an urgent fundraising appeal to help our work with sexually exploited children. We are looking to raise £370,000 so we can reach out and offer support to more vulnerable children. A significant proportion of our services in this area are funded by the generous donations of the public. We cannot continue this work without your support.

I would love to be able to say that Barnardo's could rush in and banish this cruel abuse to the history books overnight.

The truth is there's no simple or instant fix to child sexual exploitation. Fighting this terrible crime requires painstaking work by different agencies, communities and authorities all interacting well together.

Individuals and communities need to speak out. Crimes need to be reported to the police and investigated. Prosecutions need to be brought and convictions secured. Local authorities need to take the necessary action to protect children at risk. Everyone needs to be aware of the tell-tale signs so, wherever possible, we can prevent exploitation and abuse at source.

The work that Barnardo's does is one part of the jigsaw. Our focus is in helping the survivors of abuse pick up the pieces of their damaged lives - itself a slow, intense and painful process.

The number of children we work with has almost doubled in the last five years but this does not necessarily mean there are more perpetrators - they have always been there - agencies are just finally identifying more children who desperately need our support following this appalling crime.

It's important to understand how vulnerable these children are when they come to us. They have been betrayed and abused by people they trusted or even loved. They are scared, confused and withdrawn. They've learned never to trust an adult again.

We're working with children who have been manipulated to the will of their abusers. They've been told that the abuse they suffer is a normal part of a loving relationship.

They may well have been passed from pillar to post, in and out of care, in and out of foster placements, excluded or ostracized from mainstream education. They may have learning or behavioural issues.

It can take our specialist workers months or even years to try and establish the trust of these children. Some may never fully disclose their abuse.

Our job isn't to make young people tell us what has happened to them and we never push them to do so. However where children do tell us what has happened and where it is appropriate we work with the authorities to build a case against the perpetrators.

Sometimes this includes their abuser being brought to trial, sometimes it doesn't. The risk is that being dragged through the criminal justice system can compound the damage the child has experienced.

It may be unpalatable to hear but these children may sometimes make poor choices. They may well go back to their abuser. And they will probably put themselves in risky situations, even after they have been referred to our support. They are children.

Every breakthrough we have with them can be followed by a backwards step. But we never, ever give up on them. We work with them until they understand what constitutes a healthy relationship and finally break free from their abuse.

Sadly, even that's not the end of the story. Survivors will never forget the abuse they've suffered. It will remain with them forever - shaping the person they become and influencing their adult lives. But with time and the right support, these children can recover from their experiences and live full and happy lives.

Barnardo's is working to end child sexual exploitation child by child. It takes time and it takes money and we can only do it because of your support. It means everything for each and every child we help.

To find out more about Barnardo's urgent fundraising appeal and donate visit: barnardos.org.uk/emma