Monday, April 7, 2003

Phelim McAleer

Cash to help young victims of sex trade

SHEFFIELD is one of only two cities in the country awarded Government cash to combat growing child prostitution.

A project to help girls escape the sex trade, and to stop others getting involved, claims our problem is on a par with other cities, but we have more information here because of pioneering work.

The Home Office is so concerned about the number of youngsters known to Sheffield Sexual Exploitation Project, it awarded cash to produce a manual detailing danger signs to watch for if people suspect children of being in prostitution or at risk of exploitation.

Supt John Brennan, responsible for policing prostitution, said officers have often come across girls as young as 13 on the streets of Sheffield. But Doncaster's red light district lures more young girls.

The youngest he heard of in South Yorkshire was 11.

"There are considerably more children under the age of 16 in Sheffield and Doncaster working as prostitutes than ever before, as more and more children are getting involved in drugs and need the money for their next fix," he said.

"It is a growing problem and one which for a long time has not been given the amount of funding necessary to tackle it."

Men in saunas often request young girls, but Sheffield had not yet got the problem seen elsewhere, young sex slaves brought in from abroad. "We don't treat them as criminals. They are victims. Working with other agencies, we do all we can to help them exit prostitution."

Sheffield Area Child Protection Committee's Sexual Exploitation Project is one of only two in the country with Home Office funding.

It's manual gives danger signs: truancy, family problems, girls having sex with older boyfriends or suddenly having new clothes and gifts. It tells how to refer girls for help.

Jan France, of Sheffield Futures, which runs the Connexions support for teenagers, said: "Those young people involved in prostitution face great risks to their physical, emotional and psychological health. The ultimate risk is murder. The sexual exploitation project aims to assist young people to exit."

Ann Lucas, of Sheffield Council social services, said: "The project tries to help young people at risk at an early stage. It is vital that people are aware of the signs which could suggest someone is perhaps being groomed for sexual exploitation or who is perhaps already involved."

The Sheffield Area Child Protection Committee is made up of representatives of working with children and families, including health, education, social services, police, probation and statutory agencies and voluntary organisations.

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Created: April 14, 2003
Last modified: April 14, 2003
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