A top South Yorkshire Police boss has admitted ‘mistakes were made’ over the way police dealt with child sexual exploitation as the force marks a national awareness raising day.
Assistant Chief Constable Ingrid Lee made the admission as she revealed the force is currently investigating 189 new cases of sex abuse against children in South Yorkshire.
She said 244 allegations of child sex abuse had been reported, there were currently 189 live investigations and 41 people had been charged with offences.
She was speaking today - National Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day - a national initiative to highlight child sexual exploitation issues; encourage parents and carers to spot the signs of abuse and adopt a zero tolerance approach.
ACC Lee said: “There are definitely things that we have got wrong, there is no doubt about it. There is no doubt that mistakes have happened but we have done a great deal to try and put this to rights.
“We have embarked on significant training for frontline officers in partnership with Barnardos and have invested in more staff to tackle CSE.
“We understand more about it now that we probably ever did in the past.”
The force has been heavily criticised for its handling of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and Sheffield over the last 16 years and is currently subject to three external investigations.
It is being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the National Crime Agency and an independent inspection has been ordered by police and crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings.
ACC Lee said staff morale had been affected by the ongoing scrutiny but she welcomed the investigations.
“Absolutely I welcome them. It’s right that we build public confidence. If we need these inspections then that is what we should do. We want to be open and transparent so that the public have confidence in us. It is important victims have to confidence to come forward and the confidence that we will investigate what they tell us.”
She added: “Staff working on CSE do a really difficult job and to say the recent scrutiny hasn’t had an impact is not true.
“We are trying to give staff training and support and they are absolutely committed to protecting children. They are very special individuals who do this job.”
“This is an area of policing that impacts across the entire organisation and people are absolutely committed to doing their job.”
As part of National CSE day the force is holding a live web chat tonight from 6pm until 8pm with ACC Lee and officers who tackle exploitation, so members of the public can ask questions about the issue.
Log on to www.southyorks.pnn.police.uk/webchats to take part.
Road show events are taking place across the county and a schools training package is being launched.
The force is also taking part in national social media campaign #helpinghands which is encouraging people to pledge their support to the cause by tweeting pictures of supportive messages on their hands.
South Yorkshire Police has also launched a dedicated web page containing facts and figures about the number of ongoing investigations and prosecutions related to CSE - the first of its kind in the country.
The site will be updated regularly with progress on bringing offenders to justice.
ACC Lee said the main aim of the awareness raising exercise was to encourage victims to have the confidence to come forward and report abuse to police and urge parents to look out for signs their children were being sexually exploited.
She said: “It’s about raising awareness and encouraging people to report.”
Visit www.southyorks.police.uk/spotthesigns to find out more.