A Panorama investigation has uncovered how girls, sometimes as young as 12, are being groomed for prostitution by gangs on the streets of Britain.
In what is often a hidden crime, gangs are targeting young girls in a process that starts as adolescent fun but soon leads to abuse, drug addiction and prostitution.
The girls are often flattered by the attentions of older boys and like the idea of having an older boyfriend, but the initial friendship can soon turn ugly.
We spoke to "Jane" who got caught up with one of the gangs. She told Panorama that it all started when she met a group of boys in the local town centre:
"The grooming starts when you meet them and they're nice to you and take you for McDonalds and buy you cigarettes. I was flattered by it at first cos older boys were interested in you, which at 13 is nice."
But things took a sinister turn when the boys brought their friends, who were older, and Jane realised she'd been passed on. The abuse started with Jane being held down by two of the men while another raped her.
She was too scared to tell her parents and within weeks she was trapped and pimped, being forced to have unprotected sex with a succession of men day after day.
She explains how the gang introduced her to drugs, building up a debt that had to be worked off by sleeping with lots of different men. Although the gang was making money from Jane, she never saw a penny of it.
All this time, Jane was still living at home and her parents had no idea what was going on. She eventually found the strength to leave the gang, despite the threats against her and her family.
She reported the case to the police but later withdrew her allegations, worried that the police could not guarantee her safety. The case was investigated but the police said they couldn't find enough evidence for a prosecution.
Police have had success in breaking up gangs who've trafficked young women into the UK for the sex trade. And grooming of children by predators on the internet has rightly gained a huge amount of attention. But British girls being moved around the country for abuse has attracted almost no attention.
The pimping of children doesn't appear anywhere on the government's official targets for the police. Chief Constable Timothy Brain, Association of Chief Police Officers lead on prostitution explained why:
Teenage Sex For Sale: Panorama, BBC One 10.35pm, Thursday 27 March 2008
"It certainly has to fight for air space amongst a plethora of other challenges and priorities for the police service, and certainly if forces don't have intelligence about a significant problem existing in their area, they're not likely to include it as part of the policing plan priorities."
But the Home Office have known about the problem for years. A decade ago officials were so concerned about child prostitution that police and social services pilot projects were set up in Wolverhampton and Nottingham to learn how to tackle it.
In Wolverhampton the team was led by Det Sgt Lyndon Whitehouse:
"Over an 18-month period we investigated 91 cases. In 71 of those we uncovered evidence of coercion and exploitation. In 35 cases we brought a prosecution, 35 individual adults were charged with offences in connection with the exploitation of children for prostitution and virtually all of those people were convicted."
His team showed how these crimes could be tackled not only in Wolverhampton, but throughout the country as they tracked gangs taking young girls from city to city.
Today the situation is bleak. We've only been able to find two police forces in the United Kingdom that have dedicated units working with other agencies.
In Blackburn, the new police unit fighting child prostitution works with social services, education and health teams. But does it have enough officers for the task?
We asked the Home Office, if, a decade after the pilot project in Wolverhampton and Nottingham demonstrated the problem could be tackled, the government was doing enough. Vernon Coaker MP, Under-Secretary of State for Policing, responded:
"I'm saying we have done better in terms of the support we give to victims, if we talk to police and prosecutors we know it's a difficult area to prosecute. Part of the problem is how we give the confidence to the victims in order to give evidence."
And the government points to a rising annual number of successful prosecutions for child grooming and prostitution offences, Vernon Coaker said:
The police look out for girls at risk of grooming into prostitution
"It's 44 people convicted under the 2003 Act. We look back to the eight years under the old Act... the eight years before 2003 [and] there were actually just six convictions."
The next day the Home Office told Panorama to confirm that pimping children will be covered in new police targets and the government has said it will produce a warning video for use in all schools.
Meanwhile, one of the oldest crimes in history continues to threaten children at the threshold of adult life.
Teenage Sex For Sale: Panorama BBC One 10.35pm on Thursday 27 March 2008.
If you have been affected by the issues raised, you can call the Coalition for the Removal of Pimping helpline on 0113 240 3040.
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Teenage Sex for Sale: Panorama
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