Two weeks ago the Children’s Commissioner’s report on Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups hit the headlines.  With 16,500 young people at risk of sexual exploitation by gangs and groups, perpetrators as young as 12 years old and one third of young people questioned able to give examples of gang rape, the situation is shocking. Perhaps it is even more shocking because most of us live our lives completely unaware that this is a reality for so many young people.

The invisible nature of these events, the acceptance by victims over time that rape and abuse is an acceptable part of a relationship and the fear of the consequences upon themselves and their families if they report it, is what makes this stuff so insidious and dangerous. There are some amazing people working in the statutory sector with a real heart for helping children, but often these people will never get to see those who are the most vulnerable. As a result of being associated with gangs, these girls as a rule mistrust “the system” and would never seek its help for fear of the repercussions.

At a meeting I was at recently with the police and local council youth and mental health services, these young people were called “the invisible ones”. Those from the statutory sector pointed out that unless a criminal offence or a child protection event was reported, then “the system” cannot readily engage. The young people will not report the abuse and so will remain trapped in their world of abuse. In the same meeting it was pointed out that the voluntary sector were the ones able to successfully find “the invisible ones” due to the highly-relational way they engage and the fact that many workers and volunteers live and work in the same communities as the victims.

There is no doubt that statutory sector organisations play a vital role, whether that be through specific services or expertise that they offer, or through their support of voluntary sector organisations. However, there are things that the voluntary sector can do, that cannot be effectively delivered by the public sector. We must recognise the need for a joined-up approach that allows the best of both sectors to better collaborate for the long-term benefit of these vulnerable young people. If this cannot be achieved, we risk those most in need of help remaining those most distant from help, simply because they remain unseen.

In March 2014, in partnership with The Centre for Social Justice, XLP will be hosting an evening conference on Tackling Exploitation of Girls By Gangs. In addition to the dangers recently set out in the Children’s Commissioner’s report, we will be asking why we should particularly care about girls that are associated with gangs, what can be done to help them, who is the best placed to work with them and what should the distinct roles of the voluntary sector and public sector be. We hope you will be able to join us to continue this important discussion then. For more information and to book tickets, see the Conferences page of this website.

By Patrick Regan OBE – Founder and CEO of XLP

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