YOUNG sex abuse victims in Sunderland can take comfort from the fact that services which support them are growing.
A report by children’s charity Barnardo’s has exposed what it calls a “sad trend” of budget cuts cutting services which protect those being exploited.
However, it also reveals the North East is bucking the trend, with councils across the region taking more interest in the issue.
The charity said it found potential to grow in Sunderland and already works in Middlesbrough, Stockton, Darlington and Newcastle.
Barnardo’s surveyed 21 specialist services to discover raising awareness of child sexual exploitation has been slashed in some areas by 30 per cent and that recognition of the issue still remains patchy.
But similar services are growing in the North East, with local authorities and police recognising the importance of the issue and looking at how to tackle the problem.
The findings were released on the anniversary of Barnardo’s “Cut them free” campaign, which aims to stop youngsters being exploited by abusers.
Wendy Shepherd, programme manager for child sexual exploitation for Barnardo’s North East, said: “In the North East, our services are growing and I am seeing local authorities here wanting to be more involved.
“We are getting more questions and contact from different authorities and while funding is always a problem, the willingness to tackle the issue is there.
“Barnardo’s is committed to adding to its work in the region and we are seeing more multi agency cooperation and intelligence gathering. Although we do recognise there is still work to be done in many parts of the country.”
Researchers found two services even reported a downgrading of sexual exploitation as a priority in their area.
Yet bosses at the charity say the crime is becoming ever more complex and without local action children will continue to be groomed, raped and abused in towns and cities across the UK.
Barnardo’s chief executive, Anne Marie Carrie, said: “The number of children we work with rose, yet we are still not seeing the urgency of action we would expect for such an horrific crime in some parts of the country.
“We have been campaigning for more help for these vulnerable girls and boys for a year now and we will not let it slide.
“Too many children from all walks of life can so quickly be caught up in a world of drugs, violence and sex – this is a sickening slur on our society and we must do all we can to end it.”