THE region’s children need better protection from potential abusers, according to children’s charity Barnardo’s.
More sophisticated methods of grooming children, through mobile phone and the internet, need to be tackled as well as organised “trafficking” of children.
The murder of Darlington teenager Ashleigh Hall by convicted sex offender Peter Chapman is one example of internet grooming.
North East child protection experts at Barnardo’s have joined a national call by the organisation’s new chief executive for a Government minister to be appointed to oversee the fight against child sexual exploitation, bringing together local authorities, police and agencies such as Barnardo’s.
The charity worked with 145 children in the region last year who had been the victim of sexual exploitation and say this is “the tip of the iceberg”.
Barnardo’s chief executive Anne Marie Carrie used her first day in office to call for urgent action to protect the thousands of young girls and boys across the UK who are being preyed upon and then abused, raped and exploited for sex.
Barnardo’s has been supporting these children for 16 years and runs 22 specialist services across the UK, three of them in the North East, and worked with more than 1,000 sexually exploited girls and boys last year.
Ms Carrie said: “I have a lifetime of experience working in children’s services, but there is nothing more shocking than child sexual exploitation.
“These vulnerable defenceless girls and boys, who crave love and attention, are groomed then abused in the most callous and calculated way, leaving them deeply traumatised and scarred for life.”
She has been joined in her calls by Wendy Sheppard, children services manager North East, who works with children in the region who have been a victim of grooming.
Ms Sheppard said: “I think the children we are aware of are the tip of the iceberg and I’m absolutely certain there is more going on than we know about.
“There needs to be a Government official reviewing this whole issue of child exploita- tion.
“Barnardo’s are calling for a minister to be appointed to this issue to make sure local authorities, local agencies and police forces work together to safeguard our children.”
In a campaign calling for these children to be given the same protection afforded to babies and younger children, Barnardo’s launches a report Puppet on a String today which points to some worrying new trends identified by its 22 specialist services.
To read more about the problem of children’s sexual exploitation in the region read Saturday’s Family Journal.