Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Europe Intelligence Wire

Nightmare of Kid Hookers

JOANNE was just 14 when she sold her body for sex on the streets of Glasgow.

The depressed youngster ran from social-work care to the city's "drag".

She pitched up next to teenage junkies, and one of her first punters took her to a flat and locked her in.

For four days, Joanne was force-fed drugs while the beast and others took turns to have sex with her.

Eventually, she managed to get to a phone and call charity Barnardo's Scotland and the police rescued her.

Joanne's story of despair is just one of many told by Barnardo's, who yesterday called for tougher legislation on the sexual exploitation of children.

They estimate that up to 175 kids, some as young as 12, are involved in prostitution across Scotland.

The charity has begun a UK-wide ad campaign using harrowing images to highlight increases in child trafficking, prostitution and abuse.

Under the theme Stolen Childhood, the ads show young children with grotesquely-aged faces.

Yesterday, Barnardo's Glasgow street project worker Daljit Dagon said she fears children are being exploited for sex across Scotland.

She explained: "The vast majority of sexual abuse is not visible — it is hidden within communities.

"Many young people we talk to who are in prostitution tell how they first got involved with a neighbour or men locally and were paid in kind as opposed to money.

"It is hard to tell how widespread this is, so children need to feel safe to tell us without feeling they are going to be punished.

"For all we know, it could be happening in every town and city in the country and the only way we will find out is by making it easy for these children to have access to help."

The Stolen Childhood report highlights worrying trends like growth in crack houses, misuse of the internet, the trafficking of children and links with domestic violence.

It calls for a series of actions by the Scottish Executive including cracking down on adults who harbour children and commit sex offences against them, national guidelines to protect children from abuse and information on the number of children involved.

In Edinburgh, the Scottish Prostitutes Education Project say the ending of the city's prostitute tolerance zone has lead to an increase in the number of kids on the streets.

Barnardo's also want drop-in centres, crisis accommodation, improved support for at-risk kids and detox and rehab facilities for youngsters.

Almost all the prostitutes on Glasgow's streets are heroin addicts selling their bodies to feed the habit.

Daljit said: "Much of the prostitution is drug-related but in some cases sexual abuse came before the drugs.

"In our work with older prostitutes, they tell us they started at a very early age. Many of the children have run away from care or have been abused as a very young child.

"Children as young as 12 have told us they are turning to prositution to get money to go bowling or to the pictures, or to support a drug habit.

"Sometimes it is not for money at all, but just for some kind of affection.

"Sadly, these children fall victim to men who use prostitutes."

Barnardo's street project workers often find children talking of suicide.

Daljit said: "Some of them remain in prostitution because they see it as a way of self-harm. Their self-esteem is so low that they find it easier to harm themselves than others.

"Lots of young people reach a stage where they want to get out but they don't know how. We have to look at a way of getting all the agencies involved to tackle the issue."

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Created: September 20, 2002
Last modified: September 21, 2002
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