Paramilitaries believed to be involved in child exploitation in the North regard themselves as beyond the law, the North's health minister has said.
Victims feared threats to their families if they did not succumb, an inquiry has been told. Some families endured generations of exploitation.
Minister Jim Wells outlined details of the Marshall report into the nature and extent of the problem.
“These individuals have access to alcohol, drugs, guns and violence.
“They were described as people to whom you cannot say no. They regard themselves as beyond the law.”
The police view is that organised paramilitary involvement in child sexual exploitation has not been established.
Mr Wells, drawing on the expert report commissioned by his predecessor as Stormont health minister, said those claiming to be linked to paramilitaries had built on loyalty and fear in the community.
He said: “Girls may feel they can gain status through co-operating with these powerful individuals and this may be tolerated by some families. Others fear threats to their families if they do not succumb to the abuse.”
The inquiry by former Scottish children’s commissioner Kathleen Marshall also heard that some young men look to these powerful figures as role models and aspire to be like them.
Mr Wells said: The inquiry was told of families that had endured generations of exploitation.
“The kind of power such individuals exert means they may be involved in all types of child sexual exploitation.
“However, specific to them are the pubs and clubs operated in some areas where there may be lock-ins involving young girls who get ’the tap on the shoulder’ to stay behind.
“The report states it was not possible for the inquiry team to identify the prevalence of paramilitary links but perhaps this is not surprising given that some stated they feared for their lives if it became known they had spoken to the inquiry.”