Child sexual abuse cases set to emerge?

PUBLISHED: 07:00 29 March 2016

Archant

Vulnerable children are being sexually exploited in 'every town and village' in North Somerset, according to the boss of Avon and Somerset Constabulary, sparking calls for extra police resources to combat the problem.

The force’s Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens has warned young people are no longer being groomed solely in major cities like Bristol and said it would be ‘mad’ to rule out the prospect of a Rotherham-style abuse scandal taking place in the force area.

The Mercury reported last month that cases of child sexual exploitation (CSE) in North Somerset had risen by about 70 per cent in 12 months, with 24 crimes reported from September 2014 to August 2015, compared to 14 in the previous 12 months.

However, Ms Mountstevens told Yatton’s Partners and Communities Together (PACT) group she believes the figures will continue to rise as more young people come forward with allegations of abuse.

She said: “If anyone stood here and said they had total confidence (a Rotherham-style scandal would not happen here), they would be mad.

“CSE happens everywhere so it is not good to think it just happens in Bristol or Weston – it happens in every village, town and city.

“I think we will eventually get to know how big the problem is and there will be tens of thousands of victims we will find out about in the next few years.”

Ms Mountstevens told last week’s meeting officers are working with children’s charity Barnardo’s to protect children from entering into abusive or unhealthy relationships, but warned extra resources and officers are needed.

The constabulary was also successful in applying for £2million in funding from the Home Office last year to prevent CSE and target young people who were at risk of exploitation.

However, Ms Mountstevens said managing CSE was difficult because victims often do not realise they are being exploited and ‘do not trust’ the police.

She said: “These are children who do not like the police and are being fed drugs and alcohol, and think they are in a relationship. This may be the first time someone has shown them any love – it is not love, but when you are a child, you will just take it.

“It is a complex and difficult thing to tackle, (but) it is everyone’s business and if you think something is odd, go with your gut feeling – please report it.”

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