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RESCUED FROM PROSTITUTION; Charity saves hundreds from life of sex abuse.

Byline: By DEBORAH JAMES

MORE than 200 children have been rescued from prostitution in the past five years in Merseyside.

An average of 65 young boys and girls are being referred to Barnardos children's service each year after being exploited for sex, it has been revealed.

Liverpool is on the verge of hosting the north west's first conference dedicated to stamping out internet abuse and child trafficking.

Campaigners will call for more comprehensive networks between immigration authorities, health and social services, police, and charities across the region.

The youngest Barnardos case involved a 10-year-old boy from Merseyside, while the youngest girl was 11.

The list includes mostly runaways and youngsters who were groomed either in children's homes or on the internet.

Many were coerced with alcohol or drugs by older men, often a family member, and a minority ended up working on the streets.

The true number of victims is understood to be much higher, as the charity takes referrals only from Wirral, Sefton and Knowsley.

Liverpool has confirmed it has had 19 cases of children involved in child sexual exploitation since April 2004, and St Helens currently has one.

Barnardos children's services manager Arlene Rowe-Moreton said: "A significant proportion are caught up in this behaviour by an involvement with an adult with whom they have developed a trusting relationship.

"They are often very confused, because their relationship with their abuser will feel almost like this is their boyfriend, someone who looks after them and buys them gifts."

The children are usually advertised by word of mouth or through the internet.

Sexual health experts say children as young as 14 and 15 are working on the streets in Liverpool.

The conference is being organised by new Merseyside organisation Safeguarding Children Services, at the Adelphi hotel on October 10.

The aim is to crack down on child trafficking and raise awareness of how children risk being abused through the internet.

Conference organiser Jaci Quennell is setting up child protection training for people who work with children.

All five Merseyside councils signed up to a child sexual exploitation policy following the Laming Inquiry.

A spokesman for Liverpool city council said: "The issue of sexual exploitation of children is taken extremely seriously.

"Any cases are dealt with by our safeguarding and support team which is staffed by experienced social workers and agency staff.

"We also have a secure online information sharing system which police and health services can access to establish whether a youngster is on the child protection register

I found a way to get out

MAYA left home at 14 after she suffered racism at her school in south west England because of her AfroCaribbean origins.

She stopped going to school and eventually became s o depressed that she tried to hang herself.

At 15, she moved t o the Midlands to live with a man in his 40s, who had "befriended" her. At first he cared for her, but soon started abusing her, forcing her to prostitute herself.

She said: "After I'd worked all night I'd have to go out again to make money so I could eat. It was horrible and cold, I felt disgusted and used.

"This went on for a while until one day I woke up and thought I'm getting out of this situation. I can't live my life in fear."

Maya contacted a local sex workers' organisation and they arranged for her to travel to a hostel in Liverpool.

The hostel put Maya in touch with the Merseyside Barnardos Scheme, where counsellors helped her to gradually rebuild her life and her own selfesteem.

She is now going t o college and is a peer educator for the charity

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Picture: BARNARDOS
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Sep 30, 2005
Words:617
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