26 Mar 2018

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said:

“The dramatic increase in the number of British children identified as potential victims of internal trafficking reflects what we are finding in our work: up and down the country, vulnerable young people are being groomed and exploited by criminal gangs or sexual predators. They make promises of drugs and alcohol or status and wealth, then use threats, violence or sexual abuse to coerce and control their victims, including forcing them to travel across the country to sell drugs to dangerous adults.

“While the rise in reports to the National Referral Mechanism may reflect a welcome increase in awareness, with more young victims being identified and supported, we believe that there are likely to be many more who remain hidden, suffering terrible exploitation and abuse. In particular, young people who have been coerced into selling drugs are often not recognised as victims of internal trafficking and exploitation and are treated like criminals instead of being offered the help they so desperately need.

“Everyone working with children has a part to play in tackling this problem. The risk of criminal and sexual exploitation needs to be assessed every time a child is reported missing, and the government must speed up the introduction of its promised Missing Persons Database to enable the sharing of information across police borders when children are found far from home. Concerted efforts are needed from all services and professionals to identify children at risk and take action to stop exploitation devastating young lives.”