The Frim Reality of Sex Abuse; Child Sexual Exploitation Is Taking More and More Sinister Forms, from Internet Grooming to the Targeting of Vulnerable Teenagers by Gangs. HANNAH DAVIES Reports

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FROM the tragic murder of teenager Ashleigh Hall to the recent imprisonment of an Asian gang for targeting young girls, child sexual exploitation is a growing problem Which is why children's charity Barnardo's is today calling for a Government minister to be appointed to safeguard our children. Last year 145 children were helped by the charity in the region, but this is only "the tip of the iceberg", according to North East Barnardo's child exploitation expert Wendy Sheppard, There are child sexual exploitation services run by Barnardo's in Middlesbrough and Stockton, and in Newcastle there is SCARPA, which is a joint partnership between the Children's Society and Barnardo's. Ms Sheppard continued: "Where there are services to look at sexual exploitation and online grooming, children get that option of help, but what happens in the rest of the region? Where there aren't services who do these young people speak to, and who is actually looking out for them? "We know in the areas we work in there are children being exploited, but we don't know all of them."

Wendy says Barnardo's know the sexual exploitation of vulnerable youngsters via the internet is playing an increasing part in "grooming "children for abuse."

She said: "Social networking does have risks. It can be a positive thing, but we have evidence it is being used to groom children, the clear example being Ashleigh Hall who was murdered in Darlington after being exploited."

But it is more than just internet grooming, we need to be aware of according to Barnardo's. …