Worrying figures that show that 95% of children most at risk from sexual exploitation have gone missing from their homes at least once are being explored by Greater Manchester Police.
Friday will mark National Child Sex Exploitation Awareness Day, and GMP Assistant Chief Constable Rob Potts said that there was ‘a clear correlation’ between young people being at risk and their ‘inclination’ to run away from home.
Of the 4266 children who went missing in the region in 2014 – the year ‘It’s Not Okay’ was founded, as part of Project Phoenix, Greater Manchester’s response to sexual exploitation – just 44% went missing once, whilst 43 individuals ran away more than 100 times.
“The statistics speak for themselves – there is a clear correlation between young people at risk of child sexual exploitation and their inclination to run away or go missing,” said ACC Potts.
“More often than not, the young people who do run away do so regularly. This not only places a significant strain on policing but also increases the chances of that person coming to harm.
“Young people are often unaware of the dangers that are posed when they stay away from home without telling anyone and we urge them to keep in touch somehow, whether that’s through a friend, relative or anyone you trust.
“Child sexual exploitation is a horrific crime and we will continue to work hard to both locate and protect those vulnerable to abuse, working with missing children on their return to break the cycle.”
Going missing can refer to missing school, going missing overnight, or disappearing for a longer period of time.
In the 18 months since the launch of ‘It’s Not Okay’, Project Phoenix have attempted to raise awareness by working with schools and support services, as well as directly helping vulnerable children.
Paul Maher, Greater Manchester Area Manager at The Children’s Society which works with the project, said that research shows that a quarter of those who go missing will end up being harmed in some way.
“Children and young people who go missing are among the most vulnerable children in our society,” he said.
“Some may be running from neglect and abuse, family breakdown or drug and alcohol misuse by their parents – while others go missing under the influence of predatory adults seeking to exploit them.
“Whatever the reason for them going missing, we know these children are at particular risk of being sexually exploited or falling victim to other types of harm.
“That is why it is vital they receive more support at an early stage to help address the issues that cause them to go missing and protect them from the risks of sexual exploitation or becoming a victim of other crimes.”
For more information about the ‘It’s Not Okay’ campaign, click here.
Image courtesy of Jason Rogers, via Flickr, with thanks