Child sex hotspots uncovered

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DETECTIVES have uncovered over a dozen hotspots in Wigan where they fear child sex exploitation is rife.

Police have been engaged in a wide-ranging scheme to identify 13 areas where they believe perverts are operating.

As part of the crackdown, they have also spoken to 12 victims and arrested a 22-year-old man over a claim he groomed a teenage girl for sex.

The girl was reported missing, and found in the company of the man at his home, where he was subsequently arrested.

He has been released on bail pending further inquiries until November 5.

The arrest followed a week-long campaign to tackle child sexual exploitation (CSE), led by Greater Manchester Police.

Police cannot yet reveal the locations of the areas they have identified due to operational reasons but are currently working with social services.

The Project Phoenix collaboration, which also includes Wigan Council, health organisations, the nine other local authorities and the voluntary sector, centred the week around the ‘It’s Not Okay message’, launching its own website – www.itsnotokay.co.uk.

The team also visited Wigan Youth Zone and schools to speak with young people about the warning signs of CSE and how to keep themselves safe.

The Wigan Phoenix team is also believed to be the first in the region to train 40 pharmacists - who give out emergency contraception - to look for signals of when a youngster is being abused.

Brook, based in The Galleries shopping centre, which provides sexual health advice, has also supported the training work.

Jo Hiley, assistant director safeguarding/strategic lead for Wigan Safeguarding Board, at Wigan Clinica, Commissioning Group and the council, said: “We are trying to engage with different groups and get the message clear that it is not okay and that we are responsible for keeping our young people safe.

“Everybody in our communities - schools, professionals, parents - should recognise and respond to protect children and teenagers.

“We need to break down these cultural barriers in terms of making people aware of age-appropriate relationships and what is acceptable behaviour.

“This has been a great start. As youngsters are more mobile and travel across Greater Manchester, because of our collaboration across the 10 authorities they are seeing the same, consistent message that is not okay.

“We need to build on these foundations and go forward to reach as many families and communities that we can.

“We have to be innovative and think of new ways to reach vulnerable groups and educate as many people as possible.”

But the work is not just limited to the campaign week, as it continues all year round.

Teams also recently visited John Rigby College to speak to staff and students on internet safety and sexual exploitation and a total of 120 schools have bought into WSCB training which includes identifying the signs and how to make a referral on a child.

And over the last 12 months, the WSCB also has offered free online training for parents to spot and respond to the signs of grooming and sexual exploitation through www.safeguardingchildrenea.co.uk.