A MASSIVE awareness campaign is being planned to help home in on child sex exploitation in Hampshire as county bosses declare war on predatory abusers.
Taxi firms, hotels and B&Bs will be among those targeted in an information blitz following a string of high profile child abuse cases emerging elsewhere in the country.
Hard hitting drama productions and school lessons will also be held during a week long campaign starting today.
It follows a string of convictions across the country of sexual grooming gangs who preyed on vulnerable teenagers.
More recently an inquiry found at least 1,400 children in Rotherham, Yorkshire, were sexually exploited by groups of men between 1997 and 2013, who groomed their victims before plying them with drink and drugs.
But while similar incidents have not yet been identified in Hampshire, children’s bosses are warning that abusers are out there.
Children and families district manager Vanessa Johns said that is why awareness is crucial.
She said: “We have to assume exploitation is happening everywhere.
“It is happening in Hampshire and we can’t say it isn’t happening.
“We have to think the unthinkable and how we raise awareness among your colleagues, professionals and members of the community.
“We need people to talk about what is grooming? What does it look like?
“We want to be saying hang on a second, who is that with that child? Picking up on things, reporting it and sharing that information.”
A key part of the high profile campaign will be to alert people who may be witnessing child exploitation without realising.
This will include writing to businesses such as taxi firms, B&Bs and hotels.
She said: “We are giving them information on how to spot signs or symptoms and what to do with it most importantly.”
Police, schools and other organisations working with young people will also be targeted.
Meanwhile young people and carers are to be shown a harrowing play about child sex exploitation called Chelsea’s Choice.
Head teachers will also be sent lesson plans and quizzes.
Ms Johns adds: “There’s two parts to this, children currently experiencing exploitation and children who are risk – we don’t wait until something has happened.”
One major sign of exploitation could be children repeatedly running away from home.
She said: “Research tells us that going missing should not be viewed as normal.
“The more they go missing the more at risk they are.”
It is hoped the campaign will compliment work already under way in the county to identify sexual exploitation among underage teenagers.
She said: “If we find a hot spot we will be saying to agencies you need to be aware of this.
“It is about having a plan with the police about disruption if we know there are concerns about perpetrators.
“If we know it is about a local community centre being used by some adults to exploit, it is about targeting and making sure police and PCSOs are aware.”
Ms Johns said the county council, who will be spearheading the campaign, has been in talks with the charity Crimestoppers about distributing posters with its phone number where information can be left anonymously.
The campaign comes after Hampshire police chief Simon Hayes ordered the constabulary’s chief constable to undertake an in-depth review into this issue across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight in the wake of the Rotherham scandal and similar cases elsewhere.
As previously reported, Mr Hayes said he would seeking quality assurance from the local safeguarding children boards.
Detective Chief Inspector Becky Riggs is Hampshire Constabulary’s lead on child sexual exploitation, said the force will be supportingHampshire County Council‘s campaign to raise awareness.
She said: “The council’s work ties in with our messages we have been running aimed at young people that encourage them to recognise the signs of abuse in theirs and their friends’ relationships and report any concerns they may have.
“Child sexual exploitation remains a complex and hidden problem and since the beginning of this year we’ve been running a briefing programme aimed at all staff that instructs them how to spot the warning signs.”
Councillor Keith Mans, Executive Lead Member for Children’s Services, said: “It is the responsibility of each and every one of us, to look out for vulnerable children in our communities.
“If you suspect a child may be at risk of exploitation or abuse, or if you see anything that causes you concern about a child or young person, please speak to our Children’s Services team on 0845 603 5620 or to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
“We are committed to helping vulnerable children and their families in Hampshire and we value the support of our residents, alongside local professionals and organisations, to make this possible.”
Signs of child sexual exploitation
• Going missing for periods of time or regularly returning home late ·Regularly missing school or not taking part in education.
• Acquiring expensive gifts such as mobile phones, jewellery – even drugs – and not being able to explain how they came by them.
• Having older boyfriends or girlfriends.
• Bruises, marks on the body, suffering from sexually transmitted infections, drug and alcohol misuse, self-harming.
• Associating with other young people involved in exploitation ·Mood swings or changes in emotional well being, becoming secretive, defensive or aggressive when asked about their personal life.
• Displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviour.
The Daily Echo