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13 August 2013, 08:53 | Updated: 13 August 2013, 09:07
A new campaign to stop children being exploited for sex starts across the county.
Dorset Police and the two Local Safeguarding Children Boards have joined forces with Bournemouth Borough Council, Borough of Poole and Dorset County Council to raise awareness.
The campaign aims to educate parents, young people, businesses, and the wider community on the issue, offering advice on what signs to look out for and what to do if they suspect anything.
Noticing a young person being picked up or dropped off in cars by unknown adults, appearing to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol or having a significantly older 'boyfriend' or 'friend' or lots of new friends, are just some of the signs that the public have been asked to look out for.
Jez Noyce, Detective Inspector for the Child Abuse Investigation Team, Dorset Police, says it is vital people are able to spot the signs early and feel comfortable raising their concerns:
"When this appalling crime happens, it can cause lasting damage to victims. It can create tensions in communities and anxiety amongst all parents. We know of fewer than ten cases of sexual exploitation in the county, but for us this is too many. By educating the public, cases can be brought to light earlier and can give victims the confidence to come forward."
Councillor Nicola Greene, Cabinet Member for Education and Children's Services, Bournemouth Borough Council, says especially during the summer months when children are off school we need to be even more vigilant:
"Child sexual exploitation is not exclusive to any particular location or part of the country; it can happen anywhere, so we cannot afford to be complacent about the possibility of it being an issue in our local area. I would urge anyone who suspects a child to be the victim of child sexual exploitation to come forward as soon as possible."
Councillor Janet Walton, Cabinet Member for Children's Services, Borough of Poole says even something that seems like normal teenage behaviour could be a sign that a child is being sexually exploited:
"Children spending an excessive amount of time online, being secretive about their activities or going missing and skipping school are all signs to look out for. In most instances it won't be anything to worry about, but we do have a duty to act if we are suspicious in case it is something more serious."
Cllr Rebecca Knox, Cabinet member for Children's Safeguarding and Families at Dorset County Council, said:
"Young people naturally become more private as they grow older and it is difficult to know every detail of their lives, but we urge parents who have any concerns about possible 'grooming' to talk with a professional who knows their child - such as a teacher or youth worker.
"During the next academic year, the Dorset Safeguarding Children Board will be working with schools to help young people to recognise the warning signs and avoid situations where they may become vulnerable."
Richard Stowe, Chair of the Dorset Safeguarding Children Board, said:
"It's vital we work together to tackle this issue head on. Ultimately, we need everyone to be mindful of behaviour indicative of Child Sexual Exploitation. We all have a responsibility to confront this terrible crime and to protect those who are the most vulnerable in our society."
Click here for more information on how to spot the signs of Child Sexual Exploitation and what to do.