Two-thirds of girls in care homes at risk of abuse, report suggests

Two-thirds of girls in care homes in Northern Ireland are at risk of sexual exploitation, a survey has suggested.

The Barnardo’s survey entitled ‘Not a World Away’ also indicated that both male and females were affected by abuse.

It claims that in half of the identified cases for concern, the abuse lasted at least one year and in over 16% it lasted three or more years.

The findings come from a survey conducted among 786 16-year-olds.

It said one in nine admitted having an experience of an adult trying to groom them in person or online.

Drink and drugs

One girl who has been the victim of such abuse, told Radio Ulster that men aged from their 20s up to their 50s could be involved.

“They bring you to parties and they give you drink and drugs and when you get up to go home you can’t get out the door and then they just tackle you, it’s really bad,” she said.

“If you get raped the first time by one of them, you think to yourself ‘I’m not going to go back, I’m not going to go back’, but then you do, you keep on going back to the same person because you just feel afraid.

“You sometimes feel like they’re all you’ve got and they’ll give you drink and drugs, but at the same time you have to give them something in return.

“They’ll get me out of the home for a couple of nights and if I get raped it’ll be all right, but really it wasn’t, because it just messed up your head so much.”

‘Hidden issue’

Report author Dr Helen Beckett said although those in care were at a higher risk of being targeted, they were not the only ones.

“There are also cases of young people not known to social services being abused and the numbers are probably significantly greater than is currently known because it is such a hidden issue,” she said.

Barnardo’s NI Director Lynda Wilson said child sexual exploitation can be overlooked as it tends to affect older children and because “the relationship may appear consensual”.

“This report shows that sexual exploitation is a much bigger problem in Northern Ireland than we thought and is not a world away from our own front doors. Steps need to be taken urgently to protect our young people,” she added.

Barnardo’s NI has called for the NI Policing Board to incorporate child protection including sexual exploitation as a priority in the forthcoming policing plans.