Child sex abuse victims 'let down'
Thousands of children who are sexually exploited are being let down as they never see their perpetrators brought to justice, a charity says.
Barnardo's said drastic changes were needed to bring more abusers before the courts and ease the burden of child victims.
There were just 89 convictions for child sexual exploitation in England and Wales in 2009, Ministry of Justice figures showed, but the charity said at least 2,756 children were known to have been victims.
Just 180 out of 444 defendants (41%) accused of raping a child under 13 were found guilty in 2009, along with just 321 of 876 defendants (37%) accused of sexually assaulting a child under 13, the figures showed.
Anne Marie Carrie, the charity's chief executive, said: "These children are being let down terribly by the system. They are being failed twice; once by the failure to prevent them becoming victims in the first place and again by the failure to punish their abusers and secure justice.
"We need to see drastic changes to make sure the abusers who control such vulnerable children for sex and personal gain are brought to book."
She went on: "We are expecting too much of children to carry the weight of court cases on their young shoulders. Trials can be traumatic and painful experiences for children - especially when multiple perpetrators are involved. And when children do have the courage to take the stand, we need to make sure that they have the support that they deserve the whole way through the process."
A Government spokesman said: "In 2009 more than 1,500 people were convicted of sexual offences against children. These crimes ranged from rape to the facilitation of prostitution and pornography.
"We are determined to support children within the justice system. They are only required to give evidence where absolutely necessary, and measures taken to protect them include children giving evidence by video-link, or being supported by an intermediary in court."
He went on: "Later this year the Government will publish an action plan setting out how the police and other agencies can work together better to stamp out these appalling crimes."