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Teenage runaways are at risk of sexual exploitation

Release Date: 16 Jul 2013

Barnardo’s is calling on the government to urgently and thoroughly analyse the risks faced by runaway children and the level of support provided as a new report reveals they are in danger of being sexually exploited.

Watch Ben’s story. Ben’s story reveals the relationship between running away and child sexual exploitation. Ben is one of forty one children whose experiences have informed our new research report. Running from hate to what you think is love. Their experiences reveal that children who are sexually exploited can run away to escape this abuse, while sexual exploitation is a risk for children that run away.

The research, which also shows that running away can take place when a child has already been sexually exploited, was produced in partnership with Paradigm Research.

With more than 77,000 children running away each year, the report demands that the government, police and local authorities take seriously the risks faced by runaway children and work together to assess and raise awareness of this issue.

A total of 41 runaways, from a range of backgrounds, were interviewed for the report and their experiences starkly demonstrate the variety of reasons why children choose to run away and how easily they can find themselves at risk.

A total of 19 children were found ‘on the streets’ in areas where young people tend to congregate such as parks and where food is given to homeless people.

Most of the 41 children were receiving some form of support at the time of the research. However nearly half, 17 were not receiving any help to address their running away or sexual exploitation.

The report makes a wide range of recommendations including how to raise awareness of running away and child sexual exploitation and ensure knowledge is successfully and appropriately shared.

Barnardo's director of children’s services Sam Monaghan said:

The stories of these young people paint a bleak picture of the realities facing children who run away. The vulnerability of these children makes them easy prey for criminals who want to manipulate them for their own means.

When a child runs away it should act as a warning to everyone concerned with their welfare. We need to proactively look for these children and act decisively to stop them falling into situations which can leave their lives spiralling out of control.

The ease with which the author of the report was able to find young people is a sobering reminder to us all. It is essential we get these children first, because if we don’t then those who want to abuse them will.

It is paramount that we do not overlook the vulnerability of children who run away from home or care. Regardless of the length of absence it is essential that the vulnerabilities of all children are considered and that we take the time to listen to them and everything they tell us is taken seriously”

The researcher and author of the report, Emilie Smeaton said:

This research fills an important gap in our knowledge and provides an evidence base that demonstrates the links between running away and child sexual exploitation.

It is essential that we do more to increase awareness of these issues and ensure that measures are effectively set in place nationally and locally to respond effectively to the needs of vulnerable children.”

Lily, one of the young people interviewed for the report said:

If kids are on the street, if they run away or their parents kick them out, there are men out there who will take advantage of them and ‘cos you’ve got nowhere else to go, you’ll have sex with them. It’s better than sleeping out and getting raped by someone you don’t know who could do anything to you.”

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