Our specialist officers explain how abusers are targeting victims through social media apps and how they are working with parents to tackle the issue.
Calculated and manipulative sex offenders are continuing to use social media apps to target vulnerable victims into sexual exploitation.
That is the message from officers at Northumbria Police’s Safeguarding teams as they continue to take action to tackle the issue and educate those who may be vulnerable to exploitation.
Detective Sergeant Lorraine Wardle and Detective Constable Emma Clough work in the Northumbria Police’s state-of-the-art Victims’ Hubs.
They have now explained how technology has changed the picture of targeted exploitation and that information sharing between partners and parents could be vital to stopping abusers.
Det Cons Clough said: “We are finding young victims are mainly being targeted on the likes of Snapchat and WhatsApp and new social media platforms we are just starting to learn about.
“When victims come to us we are asking what social media they use to help us build a picture of how offenders may utilise these platforms to target them.
Det Sgt Wardle added: “Five years ago it used to be about text messages but there has been a shift since and it is a lot wider now.
“Exploitation is still happening and we now have this additional ease through technology of offenders befriending predominately girls, getting them to invite other friends to the group and encouraging them to share explicit images.
“It is then the threat of what happens with these images that makes it easier for groomers to get their hooks in.
“In the hub we have weekly meetings with third parties to discuss the picture of sexual exploitation in our area. We don’t just look at allegations - we look at the intelligence about what is happening.
“By sharing this information we are able to send the relevant agency to do some support work and education with those involved.”
Det Cons Clough added: “We are doing some really important work with Parents Against Child Exploitation (Pace) who have also delivered some really useful training to us.
“Pace has a great website that parents, teachers, carers and other professionals can visit to get guidance and a better understanding of what sexual exploitation is how the police work and how we gather important information.
“It was really beneficial to do the training with them.”
Det Sgt Wardle said: “Sadly, parents of victims often feel like they are blamed when actually they can be a massive part of helping to stop it and really help police. Parents know their kids the best and we need their help to gather intelligence and help us protect children from exploitation.”
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness said: “When I was campaigning to become the Police and Crime Commissioner I spoke to hundreds of people across the Northumbria Force area.
“I made a point of going in to colleges and schools to speak to young people about what mattered to them and how we can do more to engage young people in policing.
“Their biggest concern was cyber crime and they wanted to know what the police could do to safeguard them against criminals who use social media to exploit vulnerable members of the public.
“A huge amount of work is already going on in this area but the Victims’ Hubs are leading the way when it comes adopting a co-ordinated approach to preventing young people falling victim to crime.”
Gill Gibbons, Child Executive Officer at Pace, says: “Sadly, child sexual exploitation, alongside other forms of exploitation, hasn’t gone away and developments in technology have actually increased opportunities for offenders to access children, both young and old.
“Our Level 4 Award in Child Sexual Exploitation (ACSEP) details how offenders are using social media apps to target children, in addition to how working with parents and carers as lead safeguarding partners strengthens safeguarding arrangements and can help us to tackle the perpetrators responsible.
“We recognise that informed, supported and empowered parents and carers are key to tackling child exploitation. They are part of the solution and not the problem; their ultimate goal is to safeguard their child.
“Northumbria Police is committed to tackling this horrendous crime and we are proud of our joint work in this area.
“We also look forward to continuing to work with many other police safeguarding teams, health, local authorities, schools and foster care agencies to tackle child exploitation in the future through our consultancy and training.”
Parents, carers and professionals can access more information about the services offered by Pace by visitingwww.paceuk.info