Norwich charity hopes to launch campaign to highlight and tackle sexual exploitation of young people

A full picture of the extent of child sexual exploitation or what forms it takes in Norfolk has not yet been established.

But as Sara Plastow, who works for Norwich's The Magdalene Group, says: 'The whole nature of child sexual exploitation means it's underground and not staring us blatantly in the face in our everyday lives. However, it doesn't mean it's not there; it means we need to look for it.'

Or as one victim puts it: 'It's not hidden, you just aren't looking.'

The Magdalene Group, which helps sex workers, set out its hopes to instigate the Reaching Out on Sexual Exploitation (Rose) in Norfolk campaign at its annual general meeting.

The charity is currently through to the second stage of bidding for lottery funding, which it hopes will help it to set up a help line, advertise online and use social media to reach young people and women who are being groomed and exploited.

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Research shows that 70pc of women in prostitution have been sexually abused or exploited in childhood and this can be a key factor associated with working in prostitution.

Gavin Shuker, MP for Luton South and chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution, attended the AGM to introduce the new campaign and said while it may at first appear that an area does not have a problem with young people being sexually exploited, this statistic makes it likely that it is happening in areas where there is prostitution.

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He said: 'You can look in reverse and see there's a major issue there. I welcome the renewed emphasis on child exploitation in recent years but we don't really have any hard evidence of the scale and the scope of how big a problem it is.'

Suzi Heybourne, manager of the Magdalene Group, said: 'We are introducing this campaign to look at using social media and to work with several agencies within Norfolk, such as the police safeguarding team and other voluntary organisations, to work together to get a strategy on this high profile issue.

'We are so aware of the grooming that goes on with young girls and boys, and that grooming is a new form of prostitution.'

Some of the current forms of grooming and exploitation that have been identified within the UK are grooming through the internet, gang culture, the party model (where parties are held with large amounts of alcohol specifically to prey on vulnerable girls), domestic trafficking and the boyfriend model.

Mrs Heybourne said many of the women the Magdalene Group work with will have been in care as a child, and the majority of them got into prostitution through the boyfriend model.

She said: 'Most of the women we work with are care leavers.

'They have usually got a boyfriend who is an older man and it wasn't long before he suggested 'you get out and sell your ass'. That's the language they use, and they are so vulnerable and think they are getting love from this man.

'They don't even call him a pimp, they call him their boyfriend.

'97pc are class A drug addicts and they are sent out to work on the streets to fund their addiction, as well as their boyfriend's addiction and sometimes his brother's too.'

Earlier this year, nine men from Rochdale and Oldham were jailed after being found guilty of exploiting girls as young as 13 at two takeaway restaurants in the Heywood area of Rochdale.

But concerns have been mounting for some time and last November, the government published a national action plan for tackling child sexual exploitation.

Young children who run away from home are also at higher risk of being sexually exploited.

The Children's Society reported that in Norfolk approximately 1,200 young people run away from home each year, 26pc of runaways found themselves in a harmful situation, including being groomed, and 18pc slept rough or stayed with someone they had just met.

Mr Shuker added: 'Projects like this are absolutely key to working with some very vulnerable women who face a very violent experience night after night.

'We know the groups most vulnerable to sexual exploitation. As Rochdale showed, young people in care are far too often at risk at a time when they should be the most protected.

'I think the fear is that what was going on in Rochdale is happening in many of our metropolitan cities and so we need projects like this to tackle sexual exploitation.'

The charity already runs a Jigsaw Programme – a prevention scheme which has worked with more than 100 schools and organisations and 8,500 children, young people, parents and professionals in Norfolk since November 2010.

The programme works towards the prevention of exploitative relationships with young people, including grooming, on or offline, abuse or cyberbullying, by going into schools and speaking to children, raising awareness and offering training to professionals, as well as trying to offer information to parents on how they can help to keep children safe.

In 2011, the charity helped its first victim of trafficking, a 21-year-old Bulgarian woman who had been sold a couple of times on to a brothel and was being advertised online.

Another key area of work has been working with women who operate in the sex trade from home, ensuring they have information and support about alternative choices.

It has also been continuing with its befriending scheme to offer a nominated befriender to sex workers with chaotic lifestyles, and a prison visiting and befriending scheme to help women when they leave prison.

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