21/11/2012 13:00 GMT | Updated 21/01/2013 05:12 GMT

I Thought I Was the Only One - The Only One in the World

Repeatedly going missing, misusing drugs and alcohol, suffering physical injuries, becoming involved in offending, and self-harming. These warnings signs, amongst others, are consistently displayed by children and young people who are being sexually exploited, and were present in the 2,409 victims reported to the Office of the Children's Commissioner's Inquiry.

These children were sexually exploited from August 2010 and October 2011 and were identified by police forces, children's services, health agencies, youth offending teams, and voluntary sector organisations who work with victims around the country. Unfortunately the report published today by the Office of the Children's Commissioner also indicates that many local areas are failing to identify victims, and that children are continuing to slip through the net.

Based on data submitted to the Inquiry from central government departments, 100% of police forces, 88% of local authorities, and 66% of primary care trusts, it is clear that many more children display the warning signs associated with sexual exploitation. At total of 16,500 children across England displayed three of more warning signs over the course of a year. Agencies that are proactively looking for victims use the warning signs to find children. When professionals seek out children in this way they find the victims, and in turn they find the perpetrators. The report published today calls on every local area to take the same approach to identifying children who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

There are a range of ways in which children will be sexually exploited by gangs and groups. When street gangs are involved, the Inquiry received evidence of girls and young women who are associated with street gangs being sexually assaulted and raped as part of initiation processes, or as part of attacks between rival gangs. Research by the University of Bedfordshire, commissioned by the Inquiry, identified both boys and girls who had been victimised by street gangs. Likewise, both boys and girls are sexually exploited in a group context. Some groups are loose connections of people, they may only meet over the internet, they may use the same taxi firms or shops to access children, or they may be highly organised crime groups which make money out of the sexual exploitation of children. All group and gang models of child sexual exploitation result in significant harm to those children who are victimised, the impact should not be underestimated.

It is important that professionals, parents, carers, and society at large take this report as a wake-up call. We all must be alert to the signs and take action to protect children. There are too many cases where children have tried to tell and have not been heard. The report published today has the voice of children at its heart and it is imperative that we all listen and commit to do more to find and protect them in future.