Northamptonshire Police has launched a new campaign to raise awareness of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE).
People in the county are being urged to contact police if the recognise the signs of CSE, which covers all forms of sexual abuse in which children are sexually exploited for money, power or status.
Throughout the three-month campaign, images will be put on display on billboards and buses in locations across Northamptonshire and adverts will be aired on Heart radio.
The campaign will also directly target young people via social media and Digital Audio Exchange (DAX) so that young people using Facebook, Twitter and Spotify are exposed to the adverts.
Northamptonshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Adam Simmonds, who has pledged an extra £1 million to help resource the CSE unit, said he wanted to send the message out the force was taking this form of crime seriously.
The new CSE team has 11 members of full-time staff, including eight constables, two detective sergeants and a detective inspector.
Mr Simmonds said it was “possible” that Northamptonshire Police could have missed CSE crimes in the past.
He said: “There may well be victims that have not been listened to. I do not have any data but, if we are like the rest of the police forces in the country, that will have happened.
“Victims need to be listened to and believed. Perpetrators need to be disrupted, prosecuted, and brought to justice for their actions.
“Agencies need to take responsibility for protecting, safeguarding and supporting all children and young people that may be exploited. We need to recognise that child sexual exploitation is the rape and abuse of children; and begin to tackle it as just that and no less.“
There may well be victims that have not been listened to. I do not have any data but, if we are like the rest of the police forces in the country, that will have happened.Northamptonshire Police and Crime Commissioner Adam Simmonds
Superintendent Steve Lingley, the force’s Head of Crime, said the number of CSE crimes being reported to police had increased from seven to nine a month in recent years.
Mr Longley said there was no evidence of criminal gangs working to exploit children in the county, as seen in places like Rotherham, but said most of the cases the force dealt with were “lone offenders.”
He said: “Child sexual exploitation is a major child protection issue across the UK and is a local priority. “CSE is often hidden from view and going unnoticed. Vulnerable young girls and boys are groomed and then abused, leaving them traumatised and scarred for life.
“Any young person regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity and sexuality can be at risk of being sexually exploited.
“Put simply, CSE is child rape
“We need members of the public to be our eyes and ears and to let us know if they spot the signs of this terrible crime so that we can hunt down their abusers and bring them to justice.”
A number of live investigations into CSE in Northamptonshire are currently taking place with one victim only 11 years old.
Last month, three men were arrested on suspicion of sexual activity with a child in Northampton.
The launch of Northamptonshire Police’s CSE campaign was timed to coincide with the National Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day.