Ahead of National CSE Awareness Day on Saturday March 18, figures from the Metropolitan Police have revealed that crimes connected with child sexual exploitation (CSE) across the capital rose by nearly 50 per cent between 2014 and 2016.
The Met will mark National CSE Awareness Day with a conference in central London on Friday, March 17, bringing together police, partners and practitioners to discuss how to best support victims, bring perpetrators of CSE to justice and encourage more victims of this under-reported crime to come forward.
Speakers at the event will include Dame Esther Rantzen, Dr Graham Ritchie from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and Sophie Linden, London’s Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime.
In the run up to the conference, boroughs across the Met will be running a series of local events and awareness initiatives, including poster competitions, workshops and drop-in centres at youth centres, assemblies in secondary schools and stalls at shopping centres and health clinics.
Between 2014 and 2016 there was a 49 per cent increase in crimes connected with child sexual exploitation across London, from 618 in 2014 to 922 in 2016. In addition, there was a 42 per cent increase in the number of children who police believe are at risk of CSE, from 1,116 in 2014 to 1,582 in 2016.
Online CSE, where young people are groomed and abused online, increased by 135 per cent between 2015 and 2016.
Detectives believe these significant increases are as a result of not only better recording practices by officers and more incidents being reported to police, but also an actual increase in the number of offences.
Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt, Metropolitan Police lead on safeguarding, said: “In 2015, the Government declared child sexual exploitation (CSE) a 'national threat'. These figures are a reflection of the scale of the challenge we are facing and an indication that more victims are finding the confidence to come forward and report sexual abuse to police, knowing that we will take their allegations seriously.
"CSE is a hidden and under-reported crime and I want to reiterate my plea today for victims to come forward – we have specially trained detectives who will help and support you. Often young people may not even be aware that they are victims of CSE; my message to the wider public is, if you know someone who you suspect of being a victim or a perpetrator, please contact police.”
A Met-wide protocol was developed to ensure officers from the Met’s Sexual Offences, Exploitation and Child Abuse Command (SOECA) implement a consistent approach to tackling CSE across London. Initiatives such as Operation Makesafe, which raise awareness within industries, such as hotels and taxis, have increased reports and created wider awareness and better engagement with those most at risk.
AC Hewitt continued: "Policing is just part of the joint effort which is required to protect vulnerable children. Social services, schools, the NHS and the Probation Service all play their part. We already work well together but are all well aware that there is more that can be done.”
Sophie Linden, Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, said: “The rise in the number of young Londoners for whom the threat of abuse and exploitation is a tragic reality is deeply concerning. The Mayor and I have made tackling this problem and supporting victims one of our top priorities.
“Together with the Met Police and our partner agencies, we are driving improvements in our ability to identify and safeguard those children who are at risk, and provide the support survivors need to move on from their experiences. But it is a tough challenge.
“These crimes too often go unreported and remain hidden. I encourage anyone who has been a victim to report it to the police. There is help available and those responsible can be brought to justice, helping to make London a safer place for everyone.”
Plans to bring together Met teams that investigate domestic abuse, sexual offences and child abuse are moving apace, ensuring a more integrated approach to investigations that overlap, creating a better service for the victim and a more efficient approach for the MPS. This will ensure that there will be closer links between local and specialist officers, resulting in a better response by officers in protecting children who are at risk.