Child sex exploitation is ‘not just gangs and grooming’ South Yorkshire’s crime commissioner has warned.
Dr Alan Billings was speaking at the launch of Spot the Signs, a new initiative involving police, councils, charities and the Crown Prosecution Service.
It aims to increase awareness of child sex abuse and encourage ‘parents, teachers, carers and young people’ to recognise indicators of abuse.
It comes following the recent publication of the Jay Report, which revealed at least 1,400 children in Rotherham had been victims of sexual abuse between 1997 and 2013 – with police and council bosses aware of the problem but failing to act.
The campaign includes a series of ‘hard-hitting’ posters featuring online abuse, absence from school, unexplained gifts and being withdrawn as key signs of abuse.
Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner, said: “The campaign understands CSE isn’t just gangs and grooming and trafficking.
“It is also something that can happen within families, at home and therefore we want to raise awareness of the signs; how you might recognise someone is being abused, and how you might encourage them to report that to other people.
“It may be someone is self-harming, it may be gifts from older people, it may be they are just sad and miserable. We’re saying, if you see any of those signs, don’t keep it to yourself, do something about it.
“If you are a young person looking at these posters, you may recognise something is happening to you, because often victims don’t realise they are victims, and you ought therefore to be encouraged to report this and try and make a difference.”
Nikki Disney, from the National Working Group, a charity which tackles sex abuse, said: “We’re looking at early intervention here, if people can be aware of the signs of CSE, if people can look at what’s happening out there and not just assume it’s normal teenage behaviour but that it can be caused by something, and it can be child sexual exploitation.”
Coun Emma Hoddinott, Rotherham Council’s deputy leader, said: “The new leadership team at the council recognise the failings of the past, that the council along with other agencies, failed to protect our young children.
“We have got to do better. We have got to ensure we protect our children in future and campaigns like this help raise awareness of the issue.
“We’re only as good as the information we get in so it’s vital that if members of the public do have information, do have concerns, that they report those in.”