One in 20 Leeds children could be subject to child sexual exploitation

Child sexual exploitation is more prevalent than people realise, charities have warned
Child sexual exploitation is more prevalent than people realise, charities have warned
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Child abuse is more prevalent than the public realise, experts warn, with a need for safeguarding professionals to “work smarter” to tackle it in times of austerity.

Today marks national child sexual exploitation awareness day, with a number of conferences and events planned across Leeds through this week.

Child abuse isn’t bound by geography, or affluence, NSPCC honorary council member Christina Gabbitas has said as safeguarding summits are held in Leeds to discuss challenges and impact over working practice, yet there is little such representation available outside of the country’s capital.

And, amid warnings from the NSPCC that an estimated one in 20 children are subject to sexual exploitation by the age of 18, such an approach is critical in a time of challenge.

“Child sexual exploitation is more prevalent than people realise,” warned NSPCC development and impact manager Dawn Hodson.

“In Leeds, there are 183,000 children. Five per cent will potentially have been abused by the time they reach the age of 18.

“Yes we are in a massively challenging time because of cuts,” she added. “Because of that, we have to work smarter, not harder. We need to work together.”

The conference, the second of its kind hosted by children’s author Ms Gabbitas, saw guest speakers including West Yorkshire Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson.

David Niven, chair of Bradford Safeguarding Board and co-host of the Leeds conference, warned that the range and scale of abuse is only beginning to be discovered, as more people come forward.

“We can’t forget that the child sexual exploitation of our children is probably only a quarter of abuse in this country,” he said. “But there are problems with neglect, physical and emotional abuse. We’ve got lots of children in this country suffering in poverty.

“There’s neglect by omission - and that is what keeps me up at night. When a parent loves a child deeply, but can’t parent them.

“When they’re wearing summer clothes in the winter, or reliant on free school meals for a hot dinner. These families love each other.

“They’re the parents with the long lists, taped to the fridge. And when it comes to court, that’s heartbreaking. That is an illustration of the other work that goes on within safeguarding.”