Monday, 23 May 2016

We all need to be vigilant of the signs of child sexual exploitation

Last week saw the successful conviction of two men for sexually exploiting children.

For many people the fact that this had happened in West Sussex was very hard to believe. However, it is a reality that child sexual exploitation can happen anywhere - even here in peaceful West Sussex.

This particular repugnant and abhorrent crime is hard to detect as it is initially hard to identify.

For example, a man takes an interest in a young teenager. He becomes a friend, a confidante. He provides treats and he makes her feel special. He encourages her not to rely on her friends or family as he will look after her. Gradually as he takes control of this person’s life then the abuse begins – and it is abuse on a ghastly scale.

It is often referred to as grooming but to me it is a pernicious form of taking over a person’s life. It is brainwashing.

Once the abuse has started it is hard for the girl or boy to break free. They suffer with mixed emotions of shame, loyalty and fear that they won’t be believed. They are also scared of what will happen to them as revenge violence can and does happen which is why reporting and gathering evidence can take a quite a time.

Since the shocking case of Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham considerable work has been going on to ensure we do all we can to raise awareness of Child Sexual Exploitation.

Followers of the County Council’s Twitter and Facebook pages will hopefully have seen the strong awareness messages we have been sharing to help everyone know that Child Sexual Exploitation exists and what the signs are that people can look out for.

In December all County Councillors signed a pledge against Child Sexual Exploitation.

On top of this, we know it is essential to make sure our youngsters know about sexual exploitation which is why we have been particularly active working with schools to get the message across. Our youngsters need to know about it, understand it and look out for their friends.

This has been done through performances in schools of a play called Chelsea’s Choice which shows children exactly what it means to be exploited sexually. To date we have reached over 11,000 school children but we won’t stop there.

Parents, grandparent, aunts, uncles and friends need to be aware too. We know that in the teenage years some youngsters can be quite secretive and want to become more independent – often they may not bring friends home, their lives become more erratic. People around them need to ask the question - is this normal teenage behaviour or is something more going on?

There is a wide range of information on our website including a leaflet for parents to spot the signs. There are also a number of helplines from police to confidential support numbers – search CSE on the West Sussex County Council website.

We are not asking people to become detectives but just please be aware of the signs and ask the question. If in doubt, text or call the National CSE helpline anonymously on 116 000.

We need to put a stop to Child Sexual Exploitation and we need your help to ensure we do all we can to make that happen.

Best wishes,

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