Child exploitation continues to increase in ‘lockdown’
Reports of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and Indecent Images of Children have been increasing since October 2019 and continue on this upward trend, even in ‘lockdown’. 92 reports were recorded in April this year, a 40% increase from the same period in 2019. 19 (as opposed to 16 in April 2019) related to sexual grooming and abuse of children through prostitution and pornography. 73 (As opposed to 50 in April 2019) related to offences involving indecent images of children.
Rachael Toner, from local children’s charity YMCA Downlinks Group (WiSE project), attributes some of this increase to a lack of protective factors around young people at this time.
She says; “WiSE is concerned about the increased risk of CSE to children and young people during this time due to a reduction in protective factors such as contact with professionals and not being in school. We have seen a rise in missing episodes and young people being exposed to increased risk online. WiSE is still accepting referrals and has adapted our service to work remotely as much as possible. If you are concerned about a child or young person, please do get in touch. All details of our service are on Safe Space Sussex.”
Safeguarding young people from exploitation of any kind remains a top priority for Sussex Police, who are asking that members of the public remain vigilant to inappropriate or concerning behaviour and report to them or Crimestoppers if they see something that worries them.
Detective Superintendent Jon Hull of the force’s Public Protection Command said; “Safeguarding has never been as important as it is during this pandemic, as victims of child sexual abuse and exploitation are potentially on lockdown with their abusers. Each case is different, the data covers a short period, and reports of this kind fluctuate over time, but more than two-thirds of victims of child sexual abuse have been abused by a close relative, and children are groomed to believe they should never tell anyone. Our presence may be the only opportunity for a child to be heard and our officers are trained always to remember; In any situation, think about the child.”
Ruth McNee, Crimestoppers Regional Manager, said; “Abused children are at risk of being invisible during the pandemic. We know that people see and hear things that concern them about child welfare. If you are a concerned neighbour, friend or even relative but feel awkward and unsure about flagging it up to the authorities. Remember it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
“Help is out there. If you suspect a child is being neglected but don’t want to give your details, you can always tell our charity whilst staying 100% anonymous.”
This week Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne has relaunched Safe Space Sussex, the only online directory of local support services in the county. This website includes advice and support relating to all crime types, including CSE.
A ‘how to spot the signs of exploitation’ guide and online safety advice has been added to the website here: https://safespacesussex.org.uk/about-different-types-of-crime/child-sexual-exploitation-cse/
Mrs Bourne comments; “The current lockdown means that children are isolated at home and are likely to be spending more time online than they would if they were at school.
“We want to protect them as much as possible from those who may attempt to target and exploit them. This is why we have collated information that will help to spot the early warning signs of exploitation, advice on how young people can better protect themselves online and what you should do if you suspect that a young person is being exploited.
“Safe Space Sussex has also been equipped with a new search function on the home page so within seconds victims and their families can find information about who to talk to and where they can seek help.”
Details of local children’s support services can be found here: https://www.safespacesussex.org.uk/search?query=CSE
They offer services such as 1-1 counselling and helping young victims report and give evidence, which can often be a traumatic experience. They can also offer further education to young people and parents/carers on how to spot the signs of grooming in the first instance.
If you are worried that you or someone you know is a victim of CSE please contact Sussex Police immediately on 101 giving as much information as possible. If a person is in immediate danger or a crime is in progress always dial 999.
Any reports of CSE will be passed to their safeguarding investigations unit and dealt with by specially trained staff and officers.
You can report CSE anonymously and Sussex Police will record and investigate offences even if you do not want to give your details.
If you prefer not to report to the police you can contact Social Services within your local Council, or you can report anonymously via Crimestoppers: https://crimestoppers-uk.org/give-information/forms/give-information-anonymously