Sussex Police urged the public to help spot child sexual exploitation as six men were bailed to appear Brighton magistrates charged with conspiring to prostitute a 16-year-old girl.
The force and partner organisations were due to take part in a briefing this morning (Friday 23 May).
It follows an assessment by the force which indicated that more than 100 young people in Sussex were at risk of systematic sexual exploitation by older youths or men.
The young people, mainly teenage girls, may receive gifts, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and sometime apparent affection, for engaging in sexual activity, with individuals or groups, outside their own families.
Police stressed that not all of the young people referred to in the survey were actually victims of crime at that time.
The data was drawn from police records of missing and found children, information from partner agencies about children they were supporting because of safeguarding concerns and specific police operations in which there were suggestions that children may have been exploited.
The survey also found that the majority of children referred to were vulnerable to individuals, often to youths or men in their late teens or early twenties, rather than necessarily to groups, although the potential for that is still a concern.
It also acknowledged that this may not be the whole picture, as some potential or actual victims, or some agencies in contact with them, including the police, may not always recognise them as victims.
A briefing for agencies involved in tackling the problem, including local authorities, other support services and charities, was due to take place at Sussex Police headquarters in Lewes this morning.
Temporary Deputy Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney was scheduled to chair the briefing. Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne and Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker were also expected to attend.
They were being joined by a representative from the Littlehampton-based Body Shop which has adopted child sexual exploitation as a national community awareness focus this year.
Attendees at the briefing included included representatives from all three top-tier local authorities in Sussex, all three independent local safeguarding childrens’s boards (LSCBs), Barnardo’s “Sus-sex B Safe” service covering East and West Sussex: WISE (What Is Sexual Exploitation) from Brighton and Hove and Catch 22, which offers a range of support services in East Sussex.
Those attending are also being told about the first prosecution in Sussex for alleged conspiracy over child sex exploitation, after an investigation by Eastbourne detectives.
Olivia Pinkney said: “There is no current evidence that this pernicious activity, which corrupts the lives of vulnerable young people, is frequent in Sussex
“But we believe there needs to be an extra focus on the issue to encourage reporting so that a fuller picture can be established and children better protected.
“We are already working with partners in local authorities and partners in other statutory and voluntary agencies to develop a fuller picture of the way in which sexual exploitation can happen.
“And all police officers and staff, especially all those engaged on operations and intelligence, as well as our call handlers, are being specially briefed on the warning signs.”
But, Sussex Police said, the public can help too.
The warning signs to look for can include one or more of the following
a child has unexplained gifts or unaffordable new things such as clothes or mobile or expensive habits such as alcohol or drugs
they have substance misuse problems
they often go missing, run away or are homeless
they are not engaged with their school and/or have been excluded or have long periods of truancy
they repeatedly have sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy and terminations
they associate with men or groups who are older than them or are in contact with people who are known to commit crime.
Olivia Pinkney said: “This is a complex subject. The signs are not always clear and the causes and impacts are part of deep-rooted social issues, which need and will receive a co-ordinated response from the police and all our partners.
“We ask for the help of the public too.”
Katy Bourne said: “No child should ever be the victim of this kind of horrific abuse and agencies that work with children have a collective responsibility to work together to stamp it out.
“As police and crime commissioner, I want all victims and those at risk of abuse to know they have somewhere to go where they will be listened to and believed. Most importantly of all, when a young person does come forward, swift action must be taken.
“Earlier this year, following a supportive public consultation, I increased the police precept to fund future investment in Sussex Police so that they can effectively tackle serious sexual offending including child sexual exploitation.
“This extra funding will allow Sussex Police to bring the management and investigation of sexual offences and safeguarding of children and adults into a dedicated team that will have the capacity and specially trained officers to provide improved victim care.
“I hope that this will increase public confidence to report such offences, result in more victims having the confidence to complete the criminal justice system or seek other solutions and keep people in Sussex safe from offenders.”
Norman Baker said: “I am pleased Sussex Police has embraced the coalition government’s targeted approach and allocated a team of specially trained officers to lead its response to sexual offences, child safeguarding and treatment of victims.
“We are doing more than ever before to close the net on paedophiles who commit the vile crime of child sexual exploitation.
“Supported by the National Crime Agency, police are bringing an increasing number of cases before the courts and significant sentences are being handed down to perpetrators.”
If you can help on any way, contact Sussex Police on 101 and quote Operation Kite. Your information will be logged and will be able to speak in confidence to police officers or other specialist support agencies.
You can also contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
To see a video briefing to all Sussex Police officers and staff by Olivia Pinkney, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7UQ-UFsCoI&feature=youtu.be
The presentation is also part of updated public briefing pages on the Sussex Police website at http://www.sussex.police.uk/help-centre/ask-us/child-sexual-exploitation/what-is-child-sexual-exploitation There you will find more information about the subject including contact details for the other agencies who can offer help and advice.
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