Hemel Hempstead has been identified as one of the ‘key towns’ for child sexual exploitation in Herts.
The town ranks alongside Stevenage and Watford as problem areas for the cruel practice, which can include abduction, sexual activity and even prostitution of minors.
Dacorum has represented 7% of all police referrals in the county in cases relating to possible child exploitation – with a total of 10 in the period from April 2013 to September of this year.
The Hertfordshire Constabulary Halo team – dedicated to stamping out the cime in the county – received a total of 140 referrals requiring varying degrees of further investigation to identify victims and offenders.
While some cases would have been subject to no further action as it was revealed no exploitation had taken place, to date 13 offenders in the county have been charged with a total of 52 offences during the same period.
The crimes ranged from child abduction to sexual activity with children and paying for the sexual services of a child.
Chair of Hertfordshire’s Safeguarding Children Board Phil Picton explained child sexual exploitation is an issue which affects towns and cities across the country, but said: “In Hertfordshire, Hemel Hempstead, Stevenage, Watford, Welwyn and Hatfield are our bigger towns and therefore understandably feature as key areas where cases may happen.
“Across the whole county, the Board and its partners have worked hard over past years to encourage those who work with children to identify and refer cases when young people may be exploited for sex.
“It is important to note that these statistics relate to
referrals only and whilst they are all fully investigated, some cases may result in no further action being taken because exploitation is not taking place.
“However, where children have been abused police will always work with partners to ensure offenders are brought to justice.”
A report by the Halo operation also found ‘little to no evidence’ that sexual exploitation gangs are operating in Herts.
Mr Picton added: “I would like to reassure everyone that there is currently no evidence of any kind of endemic, organised child sexual exploitation in Hertfordshire but we continue to remain vigilant and would ask the community to be our eyes and ears and report any concerns.”
The Board has also released guidelines on how to spot whether a young person is being sexually exploited – including being estranged from their families, showing signs of physical injuries or self-harm, being absent from school or making friends with significantly older people.
The advice will be publicised as part of a campaign to be launched next month – called Say Something if you See Something – which aims to safeguard children in the county and protect against exploitation.
Anyone with concerns about possible child victims should call the police on the non-emergency number 101, or Children’s Services on 0300 123 4043.