Children are being sexually exploited in Harrogate and parents need to be more aware of the problem – that is the message from the Safer Harrogate District Community Safety Group as a new hard hitting campaign is launched.
In light of recent high profile cases in Rotherham and Rochdale it is too easy for parents to think ‘this type of thing doesn’t happen in Harrogate’ the campaign warns.
However Harrogate Police are dealing with an increasing number of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) cases, and say children from all backgrounds can fall victim to CSE.
“It is happening in everywhere, it can happen in any town or village,” said Nicki Dobson, North Yorkshire Police’s CSE Liaison Officer for the Harrogate District.
“People don’t like to think this sort of thing is going on in Harrogate, there is a stigma there, but parents need to be aware.”
It is difficult to measure if there has been an increase in CSE in the area as there is no single crime which covers the grooming and sexual exploitation of children.
Perpetrators can be charged with various different sexual offences, depending on the circumstances. Across the Harrogate District, North Yorkshire Police has seen a 32 per cent increase in reported sexual offences from 2014 to 2015. A similar picture has emerged across the country and a number of these reports will relate to historic offences which have been highlighted by high profile cases including Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris.
Earlier this year North Yorkshire Police launched the ‘keep it to your selfie’ to encourage teenagers to think twice about what they post on social media.
Support for parents
Ms Dobson has worked with a parent of a victim of CSE to set up a support group.
She said: “It is upsetting and very personal, there is a need for this support group in the area at the moment. I deal with victims of CSE everyday in my job and see the affect it has on families.
“The support group is working well parents are relieved to be able to talk about it, it is very basic, a place for parents to talk and many feel that a problem shared is a problem halved.
“There is definitely a stigma, there are still very different opinions about CSE, but it is abuse and needs to be stopped.”
She added: “We have got parents from massively different backgrounds, the big thing that is coming out of this is that it could happen to any teenager, all teenagers are vulnerable by the nature of the fact that they are young. There is no rhyme or reason, it isn’t just children in care who can be abused, it isn’t helping that people judge.”
Advice for parents
The Safer Harrogate District Community Safety Group has issued a parents guide to CSE to secondary schools across the district.
The guide aims to dispel the myth that ‘it won’t happen in Harrogate’ and advise parents on what to look out for.
Inspector Penny Taylor of the Harrogate District CSE Action Group said: “The guide is an important reference point for parents. It dispels some myths about CSE, and gives practical advice to parents on what to do if they suspect their child is in any way being exploited. It’s vital that parents talk to their children about the risks of CSE, and the more information they have to hand, the better.”
Ms Dobson said key changes to keep an eye out for include, new gifts, changes in their behaviour, new friendships and skipping school.
The police rely on parents and schools to be aware of the signs of CSE in teenagers.
Ms Dobson said: “Police can’t be around 24/7 so it is in part down to the parents to know how to deal with things.
“It is hard for parents, people say well just don’t let them out of the house but how can you physically stop a 13 or 14 year old?
“We are usually the last to know, and by that point it can be far too late, staff in school and parents are the ones who see their teenagers everyday, they will notice the changes.
“Police usually only find out something is going on when a child is reported missing and that’s when it is too late.”
There are several models of grooming when teenagers are brought into a lifestyle which they believe is normal but is actually abusive.
The boyfriend model sees a teenager showered in gifts and attention as they are groomed. The party model sees young people offered, drink drugs and car rides for free to make them more vulnerable and often children meet perpetrators through their own peers.
“I have seen all of the models here in Harrogate, it isn’t just 15 year old girls with 45 year old boyfriends, it isn’t as black and white as that. Boys can be exploited, as can people between 16 to 18, that’s a difficult area.”
She added: “The children themselves often don’t see that they are being exploited. They think they are in love. I get told to f*** off time and time again by these children. They key is to let them know I will be there when they wake up one day and think ‘this isn’t right’ and want to do something about it.
“For years society has blamed the victims, now we need to turn that round and we are relying on the public to help us. If something seems wrong, it probably is wrong.”
Over 1,000 ten and 11-year-olds from across the district have been taught about the issue of CSE an event at the Army Foundation College organised by the Safer Harrogate District Community Safety Group and more than 500 taxi drivers have attended awareness sessions highlighting the signs of CSE.
In addition, over 40 professionals, including police officers, probation officers, mental health workers, Harrogate Borough Council employees, and Compass Reach staff, have received CSE training from Just Whistle, a leading national CSE charity and over the next few months, the Group will also be working with hotels in the district to give staff advice on how to spot possible incidents of CSE.
New technology and social media has left children more open to being targeted by paedophiles on the internet, North Yorkshire Police’s Head of Cyber Crime DCI Matt Walker has warned.
Parents need to be aware of new technology and talk to their children about the risks of social media.
See next weeks Harrogate Advertiser for a full interview with DCI Walker.
Contacts: Email Nicki Dobson, the CSE Coordinator for the Harrogate District, at Nicki.Dobson@northyorkshire.pnn.police.uk
Anyone wishing to receive a copy of the Parents Guide to CSE should e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
The NSPCC helpline is open 24 hours a day on 0808 800 5000 for advice and support Report any suspicion to the Police on 999 if the child is in immediate danger, or 101 for non emergency reports.
See www.paceuk.info for the support group, Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation ( PACE).