More than half of parents in Northern Ireland are not aware of subtle signs that their child may be at risk of sexual exploitation, according to new research.
Only a minority of mothers and fathers thought consistently returning home late (42%) or associating with older children or adults (46%) were potential abuse warning flags. The figures were outlined in a survey conducted by YouGov for children's charity Barnardo's NI.
There was a greater degree of awareness about other indicators of potential exploitation, though many parents still did not identify them as issues that would concern them.
Three out of four felt a child behaving in an inappropriately sexual way was possible evidence of abuse. Around two thirds considered unexplained gifts or new possessions as another potential sign.
Of the parents questioned by YouGov, 58% felt that their child going missing for 24 hours or more was a warning signal. Barnardo's said the figures highlighted the need for more awareness among parents, professionals and young people about the signs of sexual exploitation.
Last year the Barnardo's NI report 'Not A World Away' found that one in nine 16-year olds in Northern Ireland had experienced some form of grooming, with the majority of those not telling anyone about it.
Launching a new campaign to raise awareness, manager of Barnardo's NI Safe Choices Service Jacqui Montgomery-Devlin said: "This is a horrible and pernicious crime that everybody needs to be aware of.
"Vulnerable girls and boys, who crave love and attention, are groomed then abused in the most callous and calculated way, leaving them deeply traumatised and possibly scarred for life.
"Yet victims continue to go unidentified as telltale signs are overlooked. I want mothers, fathers, professionals and young people to have the confidence in spotting these signs. The earlier abuse is identified, the earlier we can stop it."
To view the full list of signs of child sexual exploitation go to www.barnardos.org.uk/cutthemfree/spotthesigns. For further information or if you have concerns about a young person please contact Barnardo's Safe Choices Service on 028 9065 8511.