Police in Northamptonshire have launched a hard-hitting campaign to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation (CSE).
The campaign, with the message, “say something if you see something”, will help people recognise the signs of CSE.
CSE is a type of sexual abuse in which children are sexually exploited for money, power or status.
A number of investigations are ongoing in the county, including one where the victim is 11 years old, and another where three men have been arrested on suspicion of CSE.
The three-month campaign will include the use of striking posters at key locations across Northamptonshire and hard-hitting adverts on Heart radio around the clock.
In addition, the campaign targets young people by using Digital Audio Exchange (DAX) and social media so that young people using Facebook, Twitter and Spotify are exposed to the adverts.
Some children do not see themselves as victims of CSE, and the campaign aims to speak to those children or those who might see the signs in somebody in their peer group.
Talking about the campaign, Assistant Chief Constable, Ivan Balhatchet, said: “Tackling child sexual exploitation is the main priority of Northamptonshire Children’s Safeguarding Board and more resources and investment has been made by partners across Northamptonshire.
“We have looked at learning across the country and we our challenging ourselves do more to protect victims and tackle perpetrators.
“The country as a whole has been too slow in dealing with this and we all need to open our eyes to this appalling abuse of children.
“We need to change culture in society and we encourage everyone to report signs of child sexual exploitation. Our message in the campaign is ‘say something if you see something’.
“There is no greater priority for Northamptonshire Police and its partners.”
Superintendent Steve Lingley, the force’s Head of Crime, said: “Child sexual exploitation is a major child protection issue across the UK and is a local priority.
“CSE is often hidden from view and going unnoticed. Vulnerable young girls and boys are groomed and then abused, leaving them traumatised and scarred for life.
“Any young person regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity and sexuality can be at risk of being sexually exploited.
“Put simply, CSE is child rape.
“We need members of the public to be our eyes and ears and to let us know if they spot the signs of this terrible crime so that we can hunt down their abusers and bring them to justice.”
Supt Lingley added that CSE is under-reported and said there about nine reports a month in Northamptonshire. He said he hoped the campaign would encourage people to speak out earlier, but stressed the force had been proactive in tackling the issue and had not waited for “something bad to happen” before launching the campaign.
The force hopes the campaign will lead to more and earlier referrals.
The data from the county suggests that most offenders are lone offenders and there has yet to be any evidence of gang offences as happened in Rotherham.
Supt Lingley also said he hoped the campaign would make children more aware of what constitutes an unhealthy relationship with someone older.