Professionals often failing to spot sexual abuse of boys, Barnardo's warns

By Neil Puffett

| 11 July 2018

Sexually exploited boys and young men often miss out on the support they would receive if they were girls because professionals don't always recognise them as victims, children's charity Barnardo's has warned.

Boys told the researchers that the failure to see them as possible victims of abuse had "created barriers" and stopped them talking about abuse suffered. Picture: Adobe Stock/posed by model

Research carried out by Barnardo's, funded by the Home Office, has found that professionals can have difficulty in identifying and engaging boys and young men.

It found that behaviour that might trigger concerns that girls are at risk is sometimes put down to "boys being boys". As a result, many victims have gone without the specialist support they need.

A total of 17 boys and young men participated in the research with an average age of 15. Barnardo's researchers also spoke to workers from agencies ranging from social work to youth offending.

Boys told the researchers that the failure to see them as possible victims of abuse had "created barriers" and stopped them talking about abuse suffered.

Researchers heard how many had endured difficulties including chaotic home environments, domestic violence and unstable living arrangements, often moving between care and extended family.

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They also reported poor relationship and sex education in schools, a lack of pastoral support, with many having low self-esteem and feeling lonely and isolated, or excluded from support networks.

A lack of healthy attachment to others and a need to find a place in their peer group had made them vulnerable to developing unsuitable social networks, which had brought them into contact with sexual and criminal exploitation.

Barnardo's chief executive, Javed Khan said boys are often seen as the initiators of sexual activity, when the reality is that there may be serious underlying abuse that has driven that behaviour.

"Boys who have been sexually exploited will be traumatised by their experience unless they get the support they desperately need early on.

"It is vital professionals know how to recognise boys as victims too, so they have the best chance of recovering from their ordeals.

"We now hope to reinforce this research across the UK and will continue fighting to change perceptions so young male victims aren't prevented from getting the right support."

Sharron Wareham, manager of Barnardo's Cymru's Better Futures service, which provides assessment and longer term therapuetic services for children and young people from across Wales, said professionals working with girls are more used to recognising that their behaviour may be a symptom of underlying abuse or trauma, but this was less likely to be applied to boys and young men.

She said: "If we don't recognise that boys can be victims and we don't ask them the right questions there is a danger of them closing down before any relationship can be built. We have to look not at the behaviour but at the boy as a whole."

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