Missing Girls – and how to spot them

Just over ten years ago I wrote a novel for teenagers about a couple of friends, one of whom gets into the wrong (male) company and ends up abused. Her friend Courtney, the narrator, slowly comes to realise what is happening, though she doesn’t understand it at first, but knows she’s powerless to help her friend without extra help herself. No publisher would touch it, some citing concerns about the ‘controversial’ nature of the story line.

At about the same time a journalist with The Times was reporting on cases of child sexual exploitation in northern English towns. Nobody wanted to know; some of the young girls were ‘difficult,’ and there was a concern about the race of many of the abusers which could play into negative racial stereotypes. He persisted and eventually his mounting dossier of evidence got traction with the Police, cases started to appear in court, and gangs of men were given prison sentence. Lessons were learnt (albeit reluctantly), and my novel, Girl Friends, (a little toned down from my original submission) finally found a publisher.

Now it seems these lessons are being forgotten and a recent investigation into 45 police forces across Britain has found that there have been 55,000 reports of missing children in the past three years. Most of the children (some as young as eleven) are female, most have been groomed by adult males into sexual activity they are too young to consent to. Little seems to be being done to address this damaging trend: Police and offenders, it seems, have gone back to their old ways. And my book has gone out of print.

Not all is lost. The case of the ‘missing children’ is now back in the news and people are asking questions. But how do parents, teachers, social workers and friends recognise the signs that a young girl is being groomed for exploitation? Obviously Social Services must be informed of any concerns about a child’s welfare, and the Police need to be informed about suspected crime (the legal minimum age for consent to sexual intercourse is sixteen, and it can be older if the offender is in a responsible role towards that child). The fact that a girl might seem wilful, and willing to spend time with an abuser, is not an acceptable defence for a man found to be exploiting a child.

In my novel, now re-published as Saving Grace, Courtney is helped to identify the early signs of grooming and how her friend, Grace, is being lured into dangerous situations that she will be unable to handle. It is a good primer for friends, teachers and parents, and – though I say it myself – a fast moving and often humorous story too. You can get it as a paperback or e-book from Amazon. That way I get some royalties! However, I am happy to email a version to anyone who feels it might be a useful read, but can’t afford to buy a book at the moment. Just contact me via the reply button on this post.

NB: Reviews and feedback always appreciated.

Saving Grace.

What kind of trouble has Grace got herself into? And can Courtney save her before it is too late? £6.99, e-book £1.99. Free on Kindle Unlimited. https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08P9LFG7N