It is not often that I agree with Martin Narey, Chief Executive of Barnardos but he is right to say this week that there are many cities and towns across the country where vulnerable young women are exploited sexually.
As long as 20 years ago it was well known by residential social workers that young women who went missing from care were often picked up by unsavoury men who gave them shelter but they could then easily be drawn into prostitution. These were girls from children's homes who often had no family to look out for them. Residential staff were only authorised to work in the children's home; field social workers did not feel they had the authority to intervene in situations which did not involve parents; and the police were not much interested in tracking down young people missing from care because no crime had been committed. Of course the men the girls live with chose to have as little to do with the authorities as possible.
In the absence of no single public organisation taking responsibility to intervene, voluntary organisations step in; Barnardos and The Children's Society in particular have done pioneering work about care leavers and also sexual exploitation of children and young people. It is hard to say whether more goes on than before or that the internet has made people more aware. For example earlier this week two young women contacted one of our projects. They were worried about a friend but did not know what to do so were looking for advice. They had noticed things on their friend's Facebook page which made them think she could be being sexually exploited and thought she might not be able to do anything about it herself.
These young people were being good friends, looking out for each other. Encouraging that kind of care and providing easy ways for young people to act on their concerns (such as contacting our WEYES project) fits with the notion of 'Big Society' rather than leaving everything to public services.