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.
The charity Railway Children, which works with children who run away and end up on the streets, this week launches the report Reaching Safe Places. Funded by the charity's corporate partner Aviva, the report also involved a group of young researchers with personal experience of running away and homelessness.
I cannot imagine there are sensible adults who want to live in a culture in which child sexual exploitation is a new social norm in some or any communities. Yet there are sensible adults who are not doing all they can to make sure we develop a healthy and positive culture about young people, sex and sexuality.
Every day, we work with vulnerable children, many of whom have experienced or are at risk of child sexual exploitation. This horrific abuse has affected a number of children supported by our services, whether related to risks to those in residential or foster care, or to young parents receiving our help. Awareness must be raised and professionals, children, and their carers must be educated about the risks around exploitation, as well as ways to guard against it.
The growth in portable USB devices and mobile storage means there is a disturbing trend of offenders increasingly bringing illegal images or videos into the workplace. In fact, many businesses are already unwittingly storing, and allowing the movement of, illegal images and videos across their networks.
We all want children and young people to feel safe and loved as they grow up, surrounded by people they can trust at time of innocence. Sadly for some the reality is very different. Children who become the victims of sexual predators who groom them, coerce and exploit them are left emotionally and physically scarred for life by these horrific experiences. They need careful support to help them towards recovery, provided by organisations like Barnardo's. Just as importantly, we need to take steps to stop these terrible crimes before they happen, and bring perpetrators to justice.
"If only someone had listened..." is the final report of the Office of the Children's Commissioner's two-year national inquiry into child sexual exploitation by gangs and groups, and presents a compelling case for a "sea change" in the culture of children's services so victims' needs are prioritised...
Child sexual abuse images and videos are nearly always a symptom of abuse. In many instances they are instrumental in building to the physical abuse of a child. As horrifying as this may be, the digital trail of this kind of content presents an opportunity to find and prevent abuse. By tracking the symptom, we can tackle the problem.
In these difficult times protecting and promoting the well-being of the most vulnerable children in society must be our absolute priority, now more than ever. The introduction of the Children and Families Bill couldn't have come at a better time - it is an eagerly awaited piece of legislation which is long overdue.
The latest report is a vital contribution to our understanding of child sexual exploitation, but it focuses only one particular type, namely that involving gangs or groups. Although Asian men are overrepresented in this particular category, 95% of the UK's sex offenders are white males.