Police urge young people to ‘say something if they see something’

Cumbria Constabulary has launched a campaign urging young people in Cumbria to ‘say something if they see something’ and help keep their friends safe from child sexual exploitation (CSE).

The campaign is primarily aimed at teenagers, as often parents and adults can be the last to be made aware of a potentially abusive relationship.

Police are encouraging young people to recognise the signs of an abuse, as well as the dangers of sexting, to help keep each other safe.

There is a common misconception that CSE offenders are lonely old men who prey on vulnerable young girls. However the truth is that there are many forms of CSE, and offenders can be teenagers themselves who are grooming younger girls and boys – often through attention, alcohol, and/or drugs.

The victims may not even see themselves as victims at all, but in a consensual relationship with an older teenager. This is why it is vitally important that young people are able to recognise the difference between a happy healthy relationship and an abusive exploitative one, so that they can help keep their friends safe.

Joanne Hiley, Associate Director of Nursing, Children & Young People Services for Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, comments: “Child sexual exploitation is taken extremely seriously by the Trust and all of our school nurses are given enhanced training to ensure they recognise and respond appropriately. The Trust is an active member of the Local Safeguarding Children’s Board and is also working with other agencies to raise awareness and support for anyone who has worries or concerns. The Trust fully supports this campaign.”

DI Neil Cooper for Cumbria Constabulary said:  “CSE is an issue everywhere in the country, and Cumbria is no exception. A lot of work happens behind the scenes in Cumbria to tackle the issue. “Young people will often tell their friends about new relationships long before any adults in their life are made aware, which is why it’s so important that young people look out for each other.

“CSE can take many forms, for example it could be a young person having sex in return for attention, gifts, alcohol or cigarettes. Although the young person may not realise they are being exploited at the time, this can cause a lot of damage to their physical, emotional and psychological health as they come to realise that they have been a victim.

“If anyone has any concerns that a friend may be in danger or could be being groomed, I would urge them to get in touch with someone – whether that is via an anonymous helpline or a trusted adult. If you think something is wrong, it probably is.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to warn young people about the dangers of sexting. Today’s ‘selfie’ and ‘sexting’ culture contributes to the risk that young people now face – young people now have easier access to the internet, through various devices, than ever before. As a result they are becoming exposed to pornography frequently and at a young age, which may influence how they see acceptable behaviour.

“I would like to remind them that once you have sent an image, you have forever lost control of it, and it could be used to bully, harass, or even locate you. My advice is if you wouldn’t willingly show your parents the photo then don’t send it.”

Police and Crime Commissioner Richard Rhodes said:

“I welcome this initiative and the fact that it is aimed at young people.  We must do whatever we can to help raise awareness of CSE in the county, and with the focus of this campaign on youngsters, I believe we can help protect the children that may become potential victims.”

Sharon Tingey from NSPCC said: “Child sexual exploitation is a hidden crime. Young people often trust their abuser and don't understand that they're being abused. They may depend on their abuser or be too scared to tell anyone what's happening. It can involve violent, humiliating and degrading sexual assaults. In some cases, young people are persuaded or forced into exchanging sexual activity for money, drugs, gifts, affection or status. Child sexual exploitation doesn't always involve physical contact and can happen online. It is vitally important that young people are educated about healthy relationships, both in school and at home, young people need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of CSE and know what to do if they have concerns for themselves or their friends. I urge any young person who has concerns around CSE to contact ChildLine on 0800 1111 where there are trained counsellors ready to take their calls. There is also the option of online chat with a counsellor by accessing the ChildLine website  www.childline.org.uk. The ChildLine service is free and confidential and available 24/7. It is only through raising young people’s awareness that we give them the skills and empower them to make informed safe decisions.” 

Jacki Leah from Cumbria County Council’s Children’s Services said: “Children services, police, health services, voluntary sector agencies and schools have been working together to improve recognition of children at risk of child sexual exploitation. As a result of our growing understanding of this complex issue and increased vigilance, the number of children identified as either victims of child sexual exploitation, or at risk of becoming victims of CSE, has increased from 23 in March to 53 in September. We know that children who are missing from home, school or care may become vulnerable to sexual exploitation and we are specifically monitoring these children and young people to pick up issues early.

“For all of these children we have been able to act together to support them and their parents to work out what action is right for them, and to identify and prosecute offenders. Sexual abuse is still a hidden crime so we are pleased we are making progress with children talking about, and receiving help, with sexual exploitation.”

For more information on CSE please visit www.cumbria.police.uk/CSE
Anyone with concerns about CSE can call Cumbria Police on 101, or contact a national, free, 24-hour, anonymous phone and text service on 116 000.