Children with learning disabilities at higher risk of sexual exploitation

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Children with learning disabilities are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation than other children, and face additional barriers to protection and receiving support, according to a new report

‘Unprotected, Overprotected’ says that significant numbers of children with learning disabilities are not being adequately protected from sexual exploitation because of the false perception that they do not need sex and relationships education or accessible information about how to keep safe online and in the community.

The research also reveals that children with learning disabilities are not being adequately protected due to a lack of specialist services and a failure to implement existing national and local policies.

The report, which was commissioned by Comic Relief and undertaken by Barnardo’s, The Children’s Society, British Institute of Learning Disabilities, Paradigm Research and Coventry University, calls on governments in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to ensure that accessible and relevant sex and relationship education is made available to children and young people with learning disabilities.

It highlights the need for more training for professionals and for services to work together to better prevent, identify and provide effective support for these children. It adds that support for parents and raising awareness in the community is crucial to making sure that children with learning disabilities are kept safe from sexual exploitation.

Javed Khan, Barnardo’s Chief Executive, said: ‘No one wants to believe a child with learning disabilities could ever be exploited in this way, but it is happening all over the UK. A lack of awareness of the needs of these vulnerable children is playing into the hands of perpetrators of sexual exploitation. Professionals working with children must get training to recognise the risks faced by children with learning disabilities and help them to stay safe.’

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Special World, from Inclusive Technology, is a free website linking 125,000 special education teachers, speech therapists and occupational therapists in 150 countries. Special World readers and contributors work with children who have additional needs or special educational needs including those with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties and disabilities.

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