Sussex Police and partners are asking the public to help detect signs of child sexual exploitation.
A special assessment carried out by the force revealed that more than 100 young people in Sussex were at risk of systematic sexual exploitation by older youths or men.
The young people, mainly teenage girls, may receive gifts, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and sometime apparent affection, for engaging in sexual activity, with individuals or groups, outside their own families.
Police stress that not all of the young people referred to in the survey were actually victims of crime at that time.
The data was drawn from police records of missing and found children, information from partner agencies about children they were supporting because of safeguarding concerns, and specific police operations in which there were suggestions that children may have been exploited.
The survey also finds that the majority of children referred to are vulnerable to individuals, often to youths or men in their late teens or early twenties, rather than necessarily to groups, although the potential for that is still a concern.
It also acknowledges that this may not be the whole picture, as some potential or actual victims, or some agencies in contact with them, including the police, may not always recognise them as victims.
A briefing for agencies involved in tackling the problem, including local authorities, other support services, and charities took place at Sussex Police headquarters in Lewes last Friday (May 23).
It was chaired by Olivia Pinkney, Temporary Deputy Chief Constable, and was also attended by Katy Bourne, Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, together with Norman Baker.
Olivia Pinkney said; We believe there needs to be an extra focus on the issue to encourage reporting so that a fuller picture can be established and children better protected. We are already working with partners in local authorities and partners in other statutory and voluntary agencies, to develop a fuller picture of the way in which sexual exploitation can happen.
“The public can help too. Warning signs to look for can include a child having unexplained gifts or unaffordable new things such as clothes or a mobile, or expensive habits such as alcohol or drugs. They often go missing or run away.”
If you can help on any way, contact Sussex Police on 101 and quote Operation Kite. Your information will be logged and will be able to speak in confidence to police officers or specialists.