Dorset Police and partners are supporting the national Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day on Friday 18 March and are launching a new pan Dorset service with Barnardo’s.
Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a form of child abuse that involves the manipulation or coercion of young people to engage in sexual activity in exchange for money, gifts including alcohol, tobacco and drugs, accommodation, affection or status.
The CSE awareness day, which has been arranged by the charity, National Working Group (NWG), aims to highlight the issues surrounding CSE; encouraging everyone to think, spot the signs and speak out against abuse, and adopt a zero tolerance to adults developing inappropriate relationships with children, as well as CSE behaviour between children of similar age groups.
In support of the awareness day, children’s charity Barnardo’s are also officially launching the new Pan Dorset CSE and Missing Children Service which has been commissioned in partnership with Dorset Police, Dorset Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC), Bournemouth Borough Council, Dorset County Council, Borough of Poole and the Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group.
The service aims to identify and protect those children deemed at risk of CSE and to help those who are victims of CSE, as well as working to reduce the number of incidents of children and young people who run away from home or care. Detective Inspector Andy Bell of the Dorset Police CSE Investigation Team said: “The launch of the Barnardo’s Pan Dorset service is very positive for our ongoing work to tackle CSE. As well as working together with partners to protect children from CSE and support victims, we are particularly concerned about the links between those children who go missing and their vulnerability to sexual and other types of exploitation. It is important that members of the public do not make presumptions as to whether a child may be ‘streetwise’, even if they appear to be so. A missing child is vulnerable and should be regarded as an indicator of other issues. It is also important to remember that boys can be just as vulnerable to CSE as girls.
“There are many signs that a child may be at risk. These include; drug or alcohol misuse, sexual health issues and sexualised behaviour, sudden access to money or new things, self-harm, change in appearance, and/or temperament, low self-esteem, unexplained injuries, criminality, older friends and acquaintances and repeatedly going missing, absent or truant.
“I urge anyone who has any suspicions, no matter how small, to report your concerns to the police. The information you have could be that one important piece that could prevent a child from being harmed.”
The Barnardo’s Pan-Dorset service is commissioned to work with young people who are referred by the Police. Barnardo’s offers support to reduce the risk to those young people, as well as offering consultations around CSE to other professionals.
Martyn Underhill, Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “Dorset may be one of the safest places to live in the country but everywhere is affected by the real and constant threat of child sexual exploitation (CSE). A recent inspection by HMIC found us to be “good” at protecting vulnerable people, however, we are constantly looking to push the bar and do more to tackle this growing trend.
“Following years of budget cuts from central government, I took the difficult decision earlier this year to raise council tax in Dorset by around 1p per day to increase our resources in this area to pursue and prosecute those offenders who exploit vulnerable young people.”
He continues: “One of the key roles of Police and Crime Commissioners is to commission local services for victims and offenders, to reduce crime and improve community safety. This partnership with Barnardo’s will enable increased information sharing between organisations and a better service for victims, something I am passionate we continue to improve.”
Detective Inspector Andy Bell said: “We are determined to identify perpetrators of CSE and bring them to justice. Since the Dorset CSE team was formed in September 2014 we have arrested 58 suspected perpetrators of CSE for offences such as rape, inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, creating indecent images of children and drugs offences. In addition, the team have worked to safeguard 103 children who were assessed as being at significant risk of CSE and we are currently working with 20 children still considered to be at significant risk of harm throughout Dorset.
“There is a responsibility on everyone in society to do all they can to protect vulnerable people. Members of the public, retailers and those in service industries such as taxi drivers, hoteliers and food outlets can help safeguard children at risk by looking out for signs of vulnerability and abuse.
“If you have any concerns that a child you know may be a victim of Child Sexual Exploitation report it to Dorset Police on 101 or in an emergency on 999.”