There is a warning we risk missing children who are being sexually exploited in Cornwall – because we are looking for the wrong warning signs.
Police say half of grooming is actually carried out by under eighteens.
Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer told Pirate FM: “50% of offenders are themselves under eighteen.
“This can be teenage children grooming other children as they go through their own sexual awareness.
“Don’t think this is the traditional dirty old man a mac somewhere. Don’t assume – it’s better to raise the concern.”
Pirate FM has learnt that, over the last two years in the southwest, the youngest person to be questioned on suspicion of sex offences was just 5.
Four more 7 year olds were also investigated between 2013-15.
Now the Devon and Cornwall force is backing a social media campaign, encouraging people to write a pledge on their hand and upload it to Facebook or Twitter.
Mr Sawyer, said: “We must ensure that both the public and support services are clear and proactive in spotting the warning signs of this type of abuse and that victims are encouraged to come forward and get help.
“Raising awareness around child sexual exploitation is of the highest importance to me. I am giving my full support to this initiative.”
child sexual exploitation
Police and Crime Commissioner, Tony Hogg, has also made a palm pledge to lend his support.
He said: “This campaign has my fullest support and comes at a time when we are, more than ever, prioritising resources to cover issues of vulnerability and working alongside our partners to combat child sexual exploitation.”
Child sexual exploitation (CSE) involves young people and children being groomed and sexually exploited. It can take many forms, such as through an apparently ‘consensual’ relationship with an older person, or a young person having sex in return for attention, gifts, cigarettes or booze.
On average, it takes seven years for children to disclose sexual abuse because they have no-one they trust to turn to, no-one listens to them or no-one notices the warning signs.
Chair of Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Safeguarding Children Board, John Clements, added: “In Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly there is a real commitment to help and protect our children against everything and anything that can harm them.
“We know how child sexual exploitation can damage lives and we are determined to provide the best response we possibly can. Are we there yet? No, not quite but we are working hard to get there.
“We want people with concerns to contact us and we want children and young people to know that we will listen.
“Everybody is pulling in the right direction but we need more people involved. Parents, relatives, friends and members of the public all have a role to play and can help the professionals. I hope campaigns like this help get our message out there”.
Frontline officers, support agencies, teachers and carers, have been trained to spot warning signs of grooming and exploitation.
For more information about CSE click here.
If it is something you are worried about and you want to talk to someone – click here.