Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is a form of sexual abuse that involves the manipulation and/or coercion of young people under the age of 18 into sexual activity.
It is happening across the country and to mark National Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day, we are encouraging everyone to think, spot and speak out against abuse.
CSE can happen in many different forms and is an indicator of wider child exploitation such as county lines, trafficking and modern slavery, but it still remains an area that many people are not aware of.
Here in Wiltshire, we have a dedicated CSE team which provides specialist guidance and support to departments within the force. This includes ensuring officers on the frontline are aware of the signs that a child is a victim of CSE when attending unrelated incidents.
Families and communities are safeguarding partners and are key in tackling exploitation and keeping our children safe.
Detective Inspector Mark Kent, Force Tactical Lead for CSE, said: "Child sexual exploitation can happen to both boys and girls from all different backgrounds. We are committed to tackling the issue, and as part of our zero tolerance approach to CSE, we are urging members of the public to be aware of the potential signs of CSE and report any concerns to us.
"We are continuing to work extremely closely with partner agencies, including local authorities to not just bring offenders to justice, but to provide support to victims.
"As well as urging the public to help us, we are also continuing our work with our own officers and staff to ensure they are fully aware of the signs of CSE - victims of this type of crime will have been through horrific ordeals, but they often do not see themselves as victims of exploitation. With this in mind, it is really important that we build up a rapport with our young people and that they know we are here to help them."
What are some of the potential signs of CSE?
Emotional and behavioural changes - secretive, mood swings, new friends exploiting them, involved in petty crime
Education - being absent and truanting or showing signs of disengagement, frequent poor behaviour or considerable change in performance.
Identity - new unexplained gifts or possessions or change in appearance, e.g. different clothes
Family and social relationships
• Becoming estranged from their family or sudden hostility or aggression towards family members.
• Going missing for periods of time or regularly returning home late
• Involvement in exploitative relationships or association with risky adults
• Young people being found in towns or districts where they have no known connection
• Becoming detached from age-related activities and social groups
• Receiving phone calls and/or text messages from unknown adults
• Children or young people who appear to be recruiting others into exploitative situations.
• Evidence of drug, alcohol and/or substance use - abusers may use drugs and alcohol to help control children and young - people
• Unexplained physical injuries or suffering from physical injuries (eg, bruising suggestive of either physical or sexual assault)
• Children or young people who are self-harming and demonstrating suicidal thoughts and tendencies
• Children or young people displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviours, such as being overfamiliar with strangers or sending sexualised images via the internet or mobile phones
• Changes in physical appearance (e.g. losing weight, being malnourished).
Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon, Angus Macpherson added: "Protecting those most vulnerable in our communities is the responsibility of us all.
"Child sexual exploitation is an abhorrent crime that has devastating impact on victims and their families and tackling this is a Force priority.
"I've allocated funding to a number of services supporting victims and also working with those who have offended to stop them from reoffending.
"But prevention is key and we can only achieve that by working together."
Laura Mayes, cabinet member for children's services at Wiltshire Council said: "We all have a responsibility to ensure our children and young people are safe. We all need to recognise the signs and act if we have concerns. Wiltshire is a safe place to live however exploitation is still happening. By working together with our partners we can be more effective at combating exploitation in Wiltshire."
Councillor Mary Martin, Swindon Borough Council's Cabinet Member for Children and School Attainment, said: "The welfare and safety of a child is paramount and we all have a role to play to ensure our children and young people feel safe and protected in our communities. It is crucial that we remain alert to all forms of exploitation, not just CSE. Exploitation can also manifest as criminal exploitation, trafficking, county lines and modern slavery.
"If you witness any behaviour that you believe to be suspicious make sure you report it, don't assume somebody else has already done it. We all need to take responsibility, together we can tackle exploitation."
If people are concerned that a child is at immediate risk of CSE they should ring Wiltshire Police on 999.
If the child is not at immediate risk but people still have concerns and have some details about the child, such as their name or address and they live in the Borough of Swindon, they should contact Swindon Borough Council's Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) during office hours (8.30am to 4.40pm Monday to Thursday, and 8.30am to 4.00pm Friday) on 01793 466903.
If the child is not at immediate risk but people still have concerns and have some details about the child, such as their name or address and they live in Wiltshire and not in the Borough of Swindon, they should call the Wiltshire Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) on 0300 456 0108.
Otherwise people should call Wiltshire Police's non-emergency line on 101 to report their concerns about possible sexual exploitation.