Police officers will be out on the streets of Newry and Warrenpoint tomorrow (Friday) informing businesses and members of the public about signs that a child may be at risk of sexual exploitation.
The exercise is part of the ongoing ‘Make Safe’ campaign and the officers are members of local neighbourhood policing teams as well as the dedicated Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) team.
Detective Inspector Judith Hamill, who will be leading the operation, said that in most cases, child victims do not even realise they are at risk.
“They are being manipulated by their abuser who is gifting them with new clothes, gifts or money and putting an expectation on that child to pay them back in some way. This often results in sexual, physical and mental abuse,” she said.
“Therefore, we need to have as many eyes and ears on the ground that can look out for a child in need and notify us if they feel something is just not right.
“We know that this is an under reported crime type, so we rely on people being alert and well-informed about how to spot the signs.”
Child sexual exploitation can be present in hotels, pubs and other places licensed to sell alcohol, with taxis used to transport young people who are then exploited.
Signs to look out for include adults accompanying young people and acting in an intimate way with them, adults with young people who look confused or distressed, young people being dropped off by taxi at an hotel at odd times of the day or night and adult guests requesting a room that is isolated.
Detective Hamill added: “Officers in our Child Sexual Exploitation Team have been delivering bespoke training packages to the local hotel and entertainment industry for nearly a year. We will continue our efforts to ensure people have the confidence to report their concerns to police.
“We have a team of dedicated detectives who will robustly investigate reports and remain determined to bring offenders to justice.”
Anyone who is concerned about a child’s welfare and thinks they may be being exploited, should report it to police online, via 101 or 999 in an emergency.
“We would far rather someone alerted us and for it to be a false alarm, than for us to miss a chance to investigate or safeguard a vulnerable person,” she said.
They can also contact independent the charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or via crimestoppers-uk.org.