Seventy children deemed ‘at risk’

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A PROJECT aimed at tackling child sexual exploitation in Wigan has discovered 70 youngsters at risk in the last year.

Wigan’s Shield team was launched in April 2010 to protect young people who are being preyed on or abused.

The group offers direct support to children and young people in Wigan, up to the age of 18, who are being abused by criminals through sexual exploitation. This can be through child prostitution or by giving a young person somewhere to live in return for sexual activity.

Since April last year, the Shield team has intervened with 70 young people in the borough, and experts say this number is rising.

Shield team member Kath Vereycken, from Wigan Council’s Safeguard Unit, said: “The work undertaken by the team involves raising the awareness of child sexual exploitation across the borough, by providing specialist training.

“Police will investigate the concerns of child sexual exploitation and prosecute known offenders.

“They will also offer advice on the appropriate disruption tactics and share intelligence across the North West police divisions to help combat this form of exploitation.

“Barnardo’s workers will help young people (under 18) who are being sexually exploited, controlled or at risk of being sexually exploited.”

Children identified by the Shield Team were aged between 11 and 18 years old, with the majority aged 16 (29 per cent).

In total, 67 of the young people were female (96 per cent), and three were male.

Almost 50 per cent had previously been reported as missing from home.

More than 30 per cent were said to be in a relationship with older males or females.

And it was found eight children were involved in sexual activity for personal gain, money, clothes, drugs, or physical warmth.

The Shield team includes representatives from Wigan Council’s Safeguarding Unit, Greater Manchester Police, children’s charity Barnado’s and the Brook Advisory Centre.

The group, which is led by Janine Pevitt, from Barnado’s, takes direct action where it finds evidence of child sexual exploitation and offers support to the victims and their carers and families.

It also seeks to prosecute those who commit acts of sexual exploitation against children.

Police have undertaken investigations in relation to 12 young people, and have gathered intelligence on a further seven children.

This has resulted in seven abduction notices being served and two people have been cautioned under the Sexual Offences Act.

Six cases involving online grooming have been reported to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) centre for further investigation.

The Shield Team has developed closer links with UK Borders Agency and the Teenage Pregnancy Intervention Project.

It has recently received approval from the Local Safeguarding Children’s Board to develop a database to identify common themes or trends to give a greater understanding of child sexual exploitation across the borough.

To report any suspected incidents of child sex exploitation, contact the Shield team on 0161 856 5312.

Alternatively, contact police on 0161 872 5050 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

For more information, visit www.wiganlscb.com.