Police in Lancaster and Morecambe are dealing with around 130 known cases of child sex exploitation every year, according to shocking new figures.
The statistics – equivalent to more than two cases every week in the area – emerged as part of a major awareness campaign by Lancashire Police to show what it is doing to combat the sickening modern trend and encourage more people to help identify potential victims.
Child sex exploitation is defined by police as children being “forced or manipulated” into sex activity – sometimes in exchange for attention, treats, alcohol, drugs or a place to stay.
The vast bulk of victims are those living in a family home but nearly 10 per cent live in children’s homes and 2.5 per cent live with foster parents.
The figures for the Northern Division of Lancashire Constabulary – which includes the Wyre area and Garstang – show that a total of 131 cases were referred to police during April 2011 and March 2012.
These are known cases where the victim and offenders have been traced, which suggests the true scale of the problem is much higher with some cases so far undetected.
The issue is so serious that the Lancaster, Morecambe and Wyre now has its own dedicated team of detectives working on the issue, who are led by Det Insp Phil Jones, who heads up Operation Breakthrough.
Of the 131 cases in the area, 112 related to girls and 19 to boys. In terms of offenders, 76 were male and five were female.
Across Lancashire as a whole, there were nearly 1,500 child sex exploitation cases. Of these, 76 per cent of offenders were white British, 8.8 per cent were Asian Pakistani, and 2.6 per cent were Asian Indian.
The leading policeman who heads up the issue, Det Supt Ian Critchley said in most instances victims were “groomed” either face-to-face or online and then the trust exploited.
He said: “Sometimes they may get the young person to engage in sexual activity by giving them attention, treats, alcohol, drugs or a place to stay.
“Sometimes they may manipulate the young person into believing they are in a consensual relationship and that they love them.
“Either way, the young person is being taken advantage of through this controlling behaviour. It is child abuse and the victims face huge risks to their physical, emotional and psychological health.”
The police work in conjunction with other agencies such as Social Services and also put the victims in the hands of specially-trained counsellors. Officers are also raising the issue in schools and to parents which has helped spot more cases.
DS Critchley said warning signs that a child is being sexually exploited, include regularly going missing from home, truancy, being friends with significantly older people, being collected from home or school by people not known, unexplained injuries or bruising, unexplained gifts or money secretive mobile phone use, sexually transmitted infections or associating with other young people who are vulnerable or known to be involved in sexual exploitation.
Anyone with concerns about child sex exploitation in the area can contact police on 101 or call the special Lancaster, Morecambe and Wyre police team direct on 01524 596764.