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  1. ITV Report

Barnardo's boss warns of 'horrific abuse' suffered by children

Anne Marie Carrie, Barnardo's Chief Executive Photo: Barnardo's

In an exclusive article for ITV News, Barnardo's Chief Executive Anne Marie Carrie calls for the end of the phrase "child prostitution".

So often in scenarios of child sexual exploitation the victims rarely realise that they are being groomed and used.

At Barnardo’s we see the same devastating patterns of abuse over and over again.

Vulnerable girls and boys as young as 13, as in the Rochdale case, are preyed upon by predatory men who see the child’s need to be loved and exploit it for their own disgusting, selfish needs.

Commonly, these children can have a disrupted family life, a history of physical or sexual abuse, mental health issues or have run away from home, so when they find someone who they think will give them the love and affection they need, they become helpless. They can be plied with drink and drugs so they become dependent on their abusers and can’t see the ill intent behind the veneer.

Barnardo’s runs 21 specialist services for victims of sexual exploitation across the UK. We saw an 8.4 per cent increase to 1,190 in the number of children we worked with, last year. And these are just the children we know about; we suspect there are thousands more hidden cases.

Barnardo's runs a campaign to end child sexual exploitation. Credit: Barnardo's

What makes this form of abuse even more difficult to unearth and stop is the notion that children can somehow consent to their own abuse.

When one of the men in this case described the victims as 'prostitutes' with enough business acumen to 'win The Apprentice,' not only did he reveal his blatant contempt for his child victims, but that others might find his 'quip' funny. But the exploitation of children is not funny.

If children are not legally old enough to have sex, they are not old enough to consent to it. And they are definitely not old enough to sell it. We often hear the term ‘child prostitution’, but this use of language only serves to offer the abuser a form of redemption by suggesting an agreed and understood exchange, but there is simply no such thing.

There is an imbalance of power in favour of the abuser, who consistently and purposefully uses some degree of coercion, intimidation, violence or enticement to abuse the young person.

Barnardo’s works with child victims to help them understand this power differential and that they are being abused. The care needed by these children does not stop with helping them to accept that they are being abused. When the child does realise that the men they thought loved them are exploiting them, the psychological impact can be devastating.

They can feel guilty and confused about what is okay and what isn’t and may develop eating disorders, start to self harm or even become suicidal.

The support we provide is crucial in helping them to deal with what has happened to them and begin on the road to recovery.

With a better understanding of this horrific abuse, the more chance we have as a society to prevent it happening in the first place.

See Tim’s and Sophie’s stories of how Barnardo’s helped them.

To see what Barnardo’s is doing to end child sexual exploitation go to www.barnardos.org.uk.

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