Child sex issue 'on the agenda' in Cumbria

TACKLING child sexual exploitation has been on the agenda across Cumbria after a week of action by police, charities and victims.

The issue – dubbed the crime that is ‘hidden from view’ – was tackled head-on by dozens of agencies to raise awareness and prove their commitment to prosecuting offenders.

“It is very easy for us to think that child sexual exploitation does not happen in Cumbria,” said Richard Simpson, acting chair of the Cumbria Local Safeguarding Children’s Board.

“While it may not be overt or obvious, I am convinced it is an issue for us.”

A police spokeswoman revealed that in Cumbria in 2012/13 there were 204 reports of sexual offences and 23 reports of ‘obscene publications’ where the victim was under 18-years-old.

“It’s a misconception that it doesn’t happen in Cumbria because it’s pretty and rural,” she said. “But it can happen anywhere.”

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Throughout the week several topics were covered, including the signs of child sexual exploitation (CSE) that parents and other adults should look out for, information about how it affects victims and how it is being tackled in Cumbria.

The week culminated in a conference, held in Eden, when dozens of people – including one brave victim – spoke out in a bid to to raise awareness of the issue.

“CSE can happen to any child, anywhere,” said DI Nick Coughlan of the Public Protection Unit at Cumbria Constabulary.

“It is vitally important that parents and adults recognise the signs of CSE, as often a young person may not realise they are at risk and may even see themselves as willing participants.

“It involves offenders grooming youngsters and using their power to sexually abuse them. It can take many forms, whether via a seemingly ‘consensual’ relationship with an older boyfriend, or a young person having sex in return for attention, gifts, alcohol or cigarettes. Sexual exploitation is child abuse and, although they may not realise it, it puts the young victim at huge risk.”

A webchat was also held for charities, police and NHS staff to answer questions and share expertise on the issue.

The week of action was backed by Richard Rhodes, Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, who said he ‘sincerely hoped’ it had helped protect Cumbria’s most vulnerable residents.

“Young people need to have confidence in the system and know they will be listened to and taken seriously,” he added.

Anyone with concerns about child sexual exploitation can contact Cumbria Police on 101, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Victims can report anonymously at www.fearless.org.

For details of CSE, go to www.cumbria.police.uk/cse .

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