South Yorkshire Police is determined to do everything possible to protect children from sexual exploitation, according to the Force’s Assistant Chief Constable Jo Byrne.
Numerous criminal investigations are currently underway and going through the court processes, new operational units have been set up to tackle the crime and enquiries going back more than a decade that did not result in criminal charges are being reviewed.
In addition, the Force is shortly to launch, in partnership with numerous statutory, voluntary and charitable bodies, a new campaign aimed at increasing the public’s awareness of the tell-tale signs associated with the crime.
Assistant Chief Constable Jo Byrne said: “There can be few crimes that disgust, shock and appal us more than the exploitation of children for sexual purposes.
“In the last year, not least because of the publicity surrounding the Jimmy Savile case, there has been a greater public awareness of the dangers faced by children in society from those who would seek to exploit them and an expectation that the authorities will take firm action.
“It is important that the police service, local authorities, the Crown Prosecution Service and others from the statutory and voluntary sector work in tandem to share information, to target those intent on such crimes and to make society far more aware of the dangers.
“But it’s vital that our communities play their part as well, understanding the signs of exploitation and coming forward with information to stop such offences happening in the first place.”
Among the many South Yorkshire Police investigations currently underway are:
Operation Klan: Two Doncaster men have pleaded guilty to a total of 55 offences against teenage boys from throughout the country and are due to be sentenced in December for their crimes.
Operation Alphabet: six people, including one woman, have been charged with numerous sexual offences against children and are due to stand trial in the new year.
Operation Keg: ten people have been arrested and are currently on bail in relation to the week-long disappearance of a teenage girl from her home in Sheffield this summer.
Operation Kreel: six people have been arrested and are currently on bail and one person has been charged and remanded in custody, as detectives continue to investigate the four-day disappearance from Sheffield of another teenage girl in the autumn this year.
Operation Clover: a police investigation into allegations of historic child sexual abuse made by a young woman from Rotherham continues to gather momentum.
ACC Byrne said: “These and other cases under investigation demonstrate not only the commitment we and our partners have in fully investigating all allegations of CSE; they demonstrate that we will not hesitate, in partnership with the CPS, to bring charges where the evidence justifies it.
A re-engineered approach
The way in which South Yorkshire Police now investigates allegations of Child Sexual Exploitation has changed radically over the last decade.
In the last year alone:
• Specialist teams of detectives, support staff and specialists have joined together with experts form other agencies to form CSE teams in Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster, dedicated to the investigation and prevention of such crimes.
• Plans have been drawn up to centralise the four separate District-based Public Protection Units to form one central pool of experts to provide protection to the most vulnerable in society, including children.
• Specific operations have been carried out with partners to educate businesses and other agencies about CSE. They include Operation Makesafe which was piloted in Sheffield and is now to be launched nationally. The operation involves officers visiting hotels in order to raise awareness of CSE, help management and staff to recognise the signs, and to encourage those employed in the hotel industry to contact police with information.
• The children’s charity Barnado’s has provided four ”Sateillite” workers, one for each of the four CSE teams, to help raise community awareness of the problem and to work with officers and other agency staff to protect those at risk.
Over the last year there has also been a significant investment in the training of Police officers and volunteers across the Force.
All 1,700 front-line officers have now been trained in how to identify the warning signs and what safeguarding action they can take.
Similar training for Police Community Support Officers is due to start shortly, followed by courses for 350 Special Constables and the rollout of a specialised training DVD.
There are also plans to provide enhanced training to at least one officer in each of the safer neighbourhood teams to help the teams understand the warning signs and identify those children most at risk.
Many of the above initiatives have been funded by an investment of £500,000 by South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright.
Public awareness campaign
The Commissioner is also helping to fund a county-wide campaign to raise the public’s awareness of CSE, the signs to look out for, and to encourage reporting.
The multi-agency campaign, featuring publicity material developed by the charity “The National Working Group”, is due to be launched in December.
ACC Byrne said: “CSE is a national problem, not one solely confined to South Yorkshire, but it is one that we and all our partners are determined to tackle and eradicate as far as is possible.
“CSE is a form of child abuse where the victim is given something- food, money, drugs, alcohol, gifts - in exchange for sexual activity with the abuser. Offenders target vulnerable young people and use their power - physical, financial, emotional, etc. - over the child to sexually abuse them.
“Violence, coercion and intimidation are common. Involvement in exploitative relationships is characterised by the child or young person’s limited availability of choice as a result of their social, economic or emotional vulnerability.
“A common feature of CSE is that the child or young person does not recognise the coercive nature of the relationship and does not see themselves as a victim of exploitation. This means that they are unlikely to report the abuse so police and partners must be alert to the signs of CSE and actively look for victims.
“CSE can occur through the use of technology without the child’s immediate recognition; for example being persuaded to post images on the internet/ mobile phones without immediate payment or gain.
“Over recent years we have all learnt much more about child abuse and child sexual exploitation. As a society, we have a greater understanding of CSE and a growing intolerance of it.”