Unit launched to fight child exploitation

A MAJOR new task force has uncovered dozens of Wigan children at risk of sexual exploitation.

Wigan’s Shield team - which has been launched to protect young people who are being preyed on or abused - says it has already intervened to help 47 vulnerable youngsters in the borough since it began work in April.

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.

And since the Shield Team began work earlier this year, 15 Abduction Notices have been served by police in Wigan to ban anyone suspected of child exploitation from contacting their young victims.

Shield team member Kath Vereycken, from Wigan Council’s Children and Young People’s Services, said: “Sexual exploitation is an emerging problem and an area which is notorious for being hidden.

“The more people know about the dangers of sexual exploitation, the more parents can do to protect their children.

“Already the multi-agency team is working well together to keep kids safe.”

The average age that children are most vulnerable to sexual exploitation is between 13 and 15, according to Barnado’s.

Wigan’s 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, has pledged to take direct action where it finds evidence of such activity and offer support to the victims and their carers and families. It will also seek to prosecute those who commit acts of sexual exploitation against children.

Representatives recently visited Derby to learn more about Operation Retriever which led to the convictions of gang of men for a catalogue of offences against vulnerable girls.

Shield team member Det Insp Jeremy Pidd, from Wigan Police’s Public Protection Unit, said: “Child sex exploitation can be difficult to investigate because often the victims are reluctant to come forward.

“Through Wigan’s Shield team, Barnado’s can talk to children involved so they are comfortable to speak to our non-specialist officers. This gives us the chance to bring people to justice.”

Jeff Marsh, children’s service manager at Barnado’s, said: “Wigan is taking this issue very seriously and we’ve already established close ties with the council, police and Brook.

“Half of the costs for Barnado’s staff who are working with the Shield team are paid through the funds we generate through the hard work of our volunteers.”

Sue Woolmoore, independent chair of the Wigan Safeguarding Children Board, said: “We’re working with senior people from police, the local authority, health trusts and many other groups to make sure that children and young people in Wigan are safe.”

Coun Sue Loudon, Wigan Council’s Cabinet member for Children and Young People, said: “Far too often this crime goes undetected and the sexual exploitation of children continues. We need to send a message that there is no room in a civilised society for this abhorrent behaviour.

“Sexual exploitation of children can involve multiple victims and multiple perpetrators, which is why we must work as a team to clamp-down on it.

“The Shield team will see professionals from different agencies joining forces to seek out where this may be happening, protect the victims and bring perpetrators to justice.”

Det Chief Insp Bob Tonge, of Wigan Police, said: “By working together more closely, agencies can share information and intervene quickly to help children at risk.”

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.