UK children 'trafficked for sex'
By Paul Deal
Girls are often threatened with violence by men who had befriended them
Children as young as 10 are being moved around the UK to be sexually exploited at parties organised by paedophiles, a charity says.
Barnado's says that thousands of girls and boys are at risk of organised trafficking, and accuses council officials of failing the victims.
The organisation says the vast majority of local authorities do not provide expert help for such children.
It urges councils to commission research and to act on the results.
In its report, Whose Child Now?, the charity says that, although there are more than 200 local authorities across the UK, only 40 are known to provide specialist services for the victims of sexual exploitation.
Barnardo's runs just over half of those services. In those 21 areas, it works with more than 1,000 children who were sexually exploited in the past year.
Lisa Stacey, who wrote the report, told BBC News: "Wherever we have been asked by a council to carry out research we have come across young people who have been exploited.
"This is organised sexual abuse and it can often involve the victim being moved from one place to another. More than half the victims regularly go missing."
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She says the victims may return after several days to their family or to their care home and say things like "I've been staying with friends". They are often threatened while away and so do not ask for help when they return," she says.
The children are "basically brainwashed," says Ms Stacey: "Some will even believe that the man who is grooming them is their boyfriend... It can take some of them a year of counselling to realise that they've been abused.
"We're talking about gangs of men, perhaps with a legitimate front.
"In Scotland, we discovered children being brought from outlying areas into cities. We know of children being moved from north-east England to London, or from Yorkshire to London or Manchester."
I felt looked after, wanted, loved even. He gave me everything I wanted
The charity has released the stories of two victims.
Imogen was taken into care shortly after her 12th birthday. She told the charity that she tagged along with older girls who regularly ran away to boyfriends' flats and houses.
She said: "One man started to take a special interest in me. He was much older; he was protective.
"I felt looked after, wanted, loved even. He gave me everything I wanted and, when I was 13, he handed over the keys to a flat and said 'It's yours; use it when you need it'."
But one night she was asked to "dress up" because they were going to a party. She was taken miles from her home to London and told to have sex with different men.
She said: "I didn't have any choice. I felt so guilty. He'd take me all over the country: Leeds, Bradford, Manchester, London. He'd take me to hotels, sometimes for two or three nights.
"I wanted to escape, but he just controlled me. It was a mental thing. I was terrified."
Barnardo's said Imogen's abuser was eventually arrested and her life was slowly turned around. She went back to school and then on to university.
Susan was 13 when her mother died. She didn't get on with her father and so she moved out and began drinking.
He got what he wanted and he wanted to use me. I drank more and more to block it out
She was introduced to the father of a friend, who was 43: "He paid for all my drink. I suppose he did it to keep me quiet. Soon I didn't care about anything. He got what he wanted and he wanted to use me.
"I drank more and more to block it out."
One day she was taken to a flat and ordered to sleep with other men. When she refused she was beaten until she gave in.
Barnardo's said her abuser was arrested and Susan was put in touch with the charity. She now has a flat and is planning to go to college.
Wendy Shepherd is the charity's programme manager in north-east England.
She told BBC News: "If you looked back 10 years, you might come across children on the street who were being exploited.
"Now it's hidden. Networks are involved and they are moving the children around. The abusers use mobile phones and the internet. They groom the children online and then offline.
"What we need is for local authorities and the police to have an expert who can advise on sexual exploitation."