Greater Manchester Police received 2,286 pieces of intelligence relating to child sexual exploitation in the ten months to January this year, revealing a high level of public awareness since the horrific Rochdale grooming case.
The thousands of alerts included tip offs from worried members of the public; observations of police officers on the streets; social services, schools and other agencies about suspected sexual exploitation.
Ann Coffey, who is conducting an inquiry into what more can be done to safeguard children from sexual exploitation, on behalf of Tony Lloyd, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Greater Manchester, released the figures today.
She said they showed that the public now had its “eyes and ears wide open”.
These are the first batch of intelligence figures since a new system of “flagging” potential child sexual exploitation victims and perpetrators was introduced by GMP on its Command and Control system about a year ago, following the Rochdale scandal.
Perhaps not surprisingly, almost one third of all the intelligence gathered was from the Rochdale Division, where there were 693 reports.
The intelligence figures for the other GMP divisions were North Manchester, 130; Bury 65; Wigan 151; South Manchester 269; Salford 75; Oldham 224; Stockport 191; Bolton 162; Trafford 115 and Tameside 210.
The figures also reveal that there were 105 reported crimes across the whole of Greater Manchester in the same 10 months with some link to child sexual exploitation involving 402 victims and 242 suspects. In Rochdale there were 37 such reported crimes with 47 victims and 49 suspects..
Ms Coffey said:
“The sheer volume of alerts is a sign that as a community we have all got our eyes and ears wide open and are prepared to fight back together against those who exploit our children and young people.
“It shows that the level of concern amongst people in Greater Manchester is high. However there is still a long way to go and many incidences will still be unreported.
“It is so important that all the community is involved in sharing information to try to prevent children from being groomed and coming to harm.
“By stopping sexual exploitation from happening in the first place, we prevent years and years of heartache for those involved.”
Tony Lloyd said:
“These figures may shock us, but it is actually really positive that members of the public are willing to go to police. Police and other agencies have to take action where our young people are being sexually exploited. Every community across Greater Manchester has a vital role to play to ensure that those involved in the protection of our children have the information they need to keep young people safe.
“As Ann’s important work continues, it is becoming increasingly apparent that when police, councils, other agencies, community groups and – most importantly of all – local people work together we can build a powerful alliance against those who would seek to rob our young people of their childhood.” Tony Lloyd
Ms Coffey said the high figures for Rochdale seemed to reflect an even higher level of public awareness about child sexual exploitation in the town because of the high profile court case in May 2012, when nine men were jailed, and the subsequent work done by the police and other agencies to raise awareness in Rochdale since then.
Ms Coffey, who is the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, is in the process of gathering information and holding numerous visits and meetings. She is examining ways of how to engage the community in the fight against sexual exploitation and how to heighten awareness of the issue.
She is particularly interested in preventative work involving community groups and voluntary organisations and praised an innovative project in Oldham, called Keeping our Girls Safe.
Run by sisters, Hayley and Claire Harewood, the project, which focuses on prevention, has helped about 100 local girls this year alone.
Ms Coffey is also interested in the model of funding for the project, which was kick-started by cash from the allocated personal budget of some local councillors, including young Councillor Kaiser Rehman.
Councillors each have an allocated personal budget of £2000, which voluntary groups can apply direct for funding. The wards in Oldham are split into districts, each district also has its own budget and applications can be made for funding direct to the district partnership where the councillors collectively decide which applications to fund. KOGS have received funding from both the district partnership and individual councillors.
Councillor Rehman said: “KOGs is a fantastic organisation helping young girls in my area. Sexual exploitation is immoral and is a real issue that I want to help tackle. If supporting KOGS can stop just one girl being exploited and suffering years of mental torment then I will have done my job.”
Ms Coffey said: “Each local councillor has a personal budget which they can spend locally on areas of concern. I think this is a fascinating way forward. If local councillors could help fund projects like this in their area then there would be a lot more help for young girls.”
She added: “Projects like this empower young people and give them the confidence to say “no” to peer pressure, risky behaviour and pressure from older men.”
Keeping Our Girls Safe raises awareness of grooming, exploitation and unhealthy relationships with young people and the community to challenge and change attitudes towards sexual exploitation. They have monthly drop in sessions at Oldham Library and hold longer programmes at youth and community centres as well as with faith groups.
By using Art, Dance, Drama, Film and Photography they allow young people to explore sensitive subjects such as grooming, exploitation, healthy relationships, domestic violence, self awareness, self-esteem and confidence.
Hayley Harewood told Ann:
“Young people engage very well with our arts and drama activities. It can lighten a gloomy subject and can be positive and empowering. It allows young people to go on a journey. Many realise at some point that they are in an exploitative situation. We have many penny dropping moments.”
“I believe that community and voluntary groups are key to the fight against sexual exploitation in the future because we are at grass roots level and have the ear of the community.. Young people will talk to us and engage with us. Many may have had previous negative experiences with other agencies and are reluctant to talk to them again.”
There is currently a group of young people in Westwood, Oldham, working together to teach other young people about the dangers of social media and how to stay safe on line.
Hayley said: “We are trying to hand back the power to young people and build up their confidence so they can keep safe. We want young people to demand better and expect more from relationships and to give them the confidence to express themselves and make different choices.
“Our key message is that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and no-one should be suffering sexual exploitation.”