POLICE will be visiting hotels, taxi firms, parks and takeaways across East Lancashire as part of a major crackdown on child grooming which starts today.
It comes as detectives revealed there had been a 32.3 per cent increase in reported cases of child sexual exploitation (CSE) – where youngsters are groomed and then abused, either by older boyfriends, gangs, online groomers or people in positions of trust.
There were 467 reports across Lancashire between April and August, compared to 353 during the same period last year.
Experts believe the Jimmy Savile scandal has encouraged more victims to come forward, particularly to report historic cases.
Lancashire’s Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner Ibrahim Master said: “The Jimmy Savile scandal has given victims more confidence to come forward, hence you see increased reporting of CSE, which is a good sign.
“This tells me that it’s giving the victims, and the community, more confidence to come forward so the police can tackle these issues.”
And Det Supt Ian Critchley, from Lancashire Police, said: “I think the Jimmy Savile operation has had a huge impact on society, and also on professionals, around the profile of CSE and what we know about offenders, but also about how we deal with victims, and recognising vulnerabilities.
“There is not a significant rise in crimes of CSE occurring. It’s a case of more people being confident to come forward to us, as well as the fact that we are proactively seeking to identify those offenders who commit this type of crime. The more we look, the more we will find.”
The week-long campaign, which aims to deliver the message: ‘The More You Know, The More You See’, will see police carrying out ‘disruption work’ at hotspots, where children are known to be targeted.
Officers will be visiting schools, foster carers, and faith leaders, to talk about grooming, and working with other agencies.
It will include a dedicated poster campaign, and internet safety advice, and follows the success of last year’s child sexual exploitation awareness week, the first of its kind in Lancashire.
Det Supt Critchley said: “The impact of child abuse can have lifetime consequences, and we want children, or people who are now in adulthood, to come forward. There’s no time limit, and that’s a message for victims, but it’s also a message for offenders.
“No matter when, or where, the abuse of children takes place, we will always seek to bring offenders to justice for what are horrendously-abusive and abhorrent crimes.”
In 2006, the Lancashire Telegraph launched the ‘Keep Them Safe’ campaign, which aimed to bring vital help to children who were being lured by sexual predators. The campaign was backed by police, MPs, social services, children’s charities, community leaders, and victims’ parents, and a new Lancashire Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) was launched in the wake of the campaign.
Shortly afterwards, Blackburn with Darwen set up its pioneering Engage Team.
It has since been extended to cover Hyndburn and Ribble Valley, led to the creation of a similar Freedom Team in Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale, and been used as a template nationwide.
A Home Affairs select committee report into child sexual exploitation, and localised grooming, praised Lancashire Police, saying the force was ‘considered a leader in innovative policing of child sexual exploitation’.
The report also revealed that, in 2012, Lancashire Police secured 100 successful prosecutions relating to child sexual exploitation, whereas South Yorkshire had none in the same period.
Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle said: “I’m absolutely delighted that action is being taken. It is a big issue in Burnley, and 99 per cent of people in the town will be pleased to see strong police action.
“Following the high-publicity cases we have seen this year, I think people are more aware of these types of crimes, and more and more are being reported. I don’t think people are frightened of threats any more, and they know support will be out there.
“The more it gets reported, the more publicity it gets, and hopefully that will encourage even more people to come forward.”
Earlier this year, a Brierfield man was jailed for four years and three months for abusing a 12-year-old girl. His brother was jailed for 15 months after admitting perverting the course of justice. He was said to have bombarded the youngster with 350 text messages.
‘HIS AGE, HIS PHOTOGRAPH: I KNOW IT WAS ALL LIES’
JACK, 13, met Daniel through Facebook when he came up as a suggested friend. Daniel told Jack he was 18, but he was actually much older…
Jack said: “I added him as a friend and we started chatting, just having normal conversations. I started to like him more and more as we got talking, and the conversations became quite sexual and we arranged to meet up.
“I thought I knew a bit about him because he had told me his age, and where he lived, and sent me a picture, but I know now this was all lies as he was much older than he said, and had used a photo of somebody else.
“I was usually really careful online as I have seen all the warnings about internet safety, but just thought nothing would happen to me. We arranged to meet at a hotel, and when we met I realised straight away that something wasn’t right.
“I went along with things at the start because I really wanted to be in a relationship. We started having sex and, although by that stage I knew he was a much older man, I felt confused and trapped. Eventually, I told my mum what was happening and it was she who called the police. I didn’t want to tell the truth at first, but then I realised he could do the same thing to other people like me.”
‘I WAS FRIGHTENED, BUT I KEPT SLEEPING WITH HIM’
JESS, 15, got involved with an older man who preyed on her vulnerabilities, and posed as her boyfriend…
She said: “My dad wasn’t around any more and I never really got on with my mum, so I started spending as much time as I could out of the house. I was 15, but my friends and I looked older, so we bought alcohol quite easily. I thought it was cool to be out drinking, and we’d spend most nights out on the streets together drinking cider.
“Sometimes guys would come and join us. They were a lot older, but I liked the attention. There was one guy who’d come over quite a lot, and his friends told me he fancied me. I liked that someone so much older was interested me.
“Then one night three of us were out. The guy pulled up in his car, and asked us to come back to his house.
“Another friend and I jumped at the chance. He had a flash car, so I figured his house would be pretty nice too. He drove us around for a bit, playing music and we were pretty drunk, then he pulled up outside a terraced house.
“He took me into the living room with one of his mates, and he made me sleep with him. I was drunk and he told me I had to. I was frightened, but I didn’t stop seeing him. I kept sleeping with him, and sometimes his friends too.
“It was only afterwards I realised I’d been used.”
‘I WAS 12 AND ENDED UP OWING A £5K DRUGS DEBT’
LUCY, 12, fell in with a ‘bad crowd’ and started abusing drugs and alcohol when she was just 11. She was often reported missing from home – one of the key signs of child sexual exploitation…
Lucy said: “I started high school and instantly fell in with the wrong crowd. I met a lad who was two years older and started a relationship with him. Soon after, I started smoking cigarettes, and I began trying cannabis, and then cocaine and ecstasy. By the time I was 12, bubble had come out and, within six weeks, I was taking it every day, and getting into a really big mess.
“I spiralled out of control really fast. My mum left when I was little, so I was just living with my dad, but I wouldn’t go home and see him for days. He kept reporting me missing, the police would find me, and then I’d leave again. The people I was hanging around with were in their 20s.
“I was 12 and I ended up owing a £5,000 drugs debt, and I stole thousands off my dad. Without the police, I would be dead in a gutter. They target these horrible people and lock them up, and it can be stopped. They don’t deserve to be walking the streets because they target young, vulnerable girls, and it’s awful. I want to try and warn girls who think these people are their friends, they are not.”