At Barnardo's our number one priority is providing vital support to vulnerable children and young people. Children like Malaika. She was just 14 when she was sexually exploited and raped. Scared she would be blamed for what happened to her, the only person she trusted to talk to was a specialist Barnardo's worker.
Malaika is one of thousands of children being helped by our specialist team supporting sexually exploited children. Sadly, we've seen a huge increase in the number of sexually exploited children who are referred to us for support. Much of this work is only made possible by the generosity of people giving us donations.
Slowly and gently Malaika's support worker helped her build up confidence and reassured her that the rape was not her fault. Feeling more resilient, Malaika was able to tell the police what happened to her and found the courage to give evidence in court. This tremendous bravery resulted in the perpetrator being found guilty and sentenced.
Malaika said she couldn't have done any of this without her support worker, who listened, never judged her and taught her how to stay safe.
We're seeing more children like Malaika because the organisations we are working with are getting better at identifying those at risk and referring them to us. Additional expert workers are needed to cope with the surge of girls and boys, some aged as young as 10 years old, who are directed to the charity.
After the trial Malaika said that the people who hurt you should be punished. We couldn't agree with her more and Barnardo's is committed to enabling other children and young people get justice, when that's what they want.
Our expert teams also work in schools and the community, raising public awareness about recognising the signs of sexual exploitation to help prevent this horrific form of abuse.
In the last five years we've seen a 169% rise in the numbers of sexually exploited children we support. During 2014-15 the charity worked with 3,200 vulnerable children compared to 1,190 in 2010.
We've opened more services to deal with the extra demand but many are stretched to the limit. Although we have a rapidly expanding network in 59 UK locations - it's not enough to help every child.
Public donations make a real difference. For example, £10 will allow a Barnardo's worker to meet a vulnerable child or young person for their first one-to-one session and start building a safe and trusting relationship. While £50 will pay for a school session to prevent sexual exploitation by showing children the risks and the difference between healthy and exploitative relationships.
We need more than £500,000 right now to help keep our support services going. Every penny generously donated to us in our urgent appeal this February, will benefit a vulnerable child or young person.
Any child can become a victim of this awful crime, regardless of where they live or their background. Your child or the child of someone you know could be at risk of being targeted and sexually abused in person or online. That's why it's so important the right help is in place - to stop the crime from happening in the first place, and to support children who've been through terrible abuse.
To find out more about the appeal and donate got to: www.barnardos.org.uk/urgent
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