Children in Northern Ireland may be being sexually exploited by elements of paramilitary groups, according to a new report released by the Department of Health.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE), led by Kathleen Marshall, was released today.
In an oral statement to the assembly, Health Minister Jim Wells said: “A number of individuals expressed an ardent plea that the Inquiry should speak up about the paramilitary dimension to CSE. Individuals believed to be members of, or linked to, paramilitary groups used that authority and the fear it engendered to exploit children and young people. The Inquiry was told very clearly that paramilitary influence may cause and facilitate CSE. Within communities it can build upon loyalty and fear.”
The Minister said the inquiry concludes that while child sexual exploitation is not new in Northern Ireland and takes many forms, it has been difficult to establish its prevalence due to its hidden nature and under-reporting.
“The Inquiry concludes that available data can only give a ‘rough idea’ of the extent of CSE and it is likely to be a significant under-estimate,” he said. “The report states the first step in tackling CSE is to recognise it exists and suggests more cases will be identified as awareness increases and there is a recommendation linked to raising public awareness.”
The Inquiry Report contains 17 key recommendations and a further 60 supporting recommendations.
Justice Minister David Ford said: “The Inquiry is clear that child sexual exploitation is happening in Northern Ireland and that it takes many forms. That in itself brings challenges and means that it is essential that we intensify our efforts to address it in all its aspects.
“It is clear that it is the role of the Department of Justice to ensure that, where such crimes occur, agencies work together to protect and support victims and bring perpetrators to justice. That work has been, and continues to be, progressed, including through the Victim and Witness Strategy published by me in 2013.”
David Ford concluded: “I would encourage anyone affected by this issue who wishes to seek support to contact the NSPCC Helpline for victims. This Helpline is set up to assist anyone wishing to raise concerns about child sexual exploitation. The dedicated Helpline number is 0800 3891701.”