CHILDREN in West Lancs are being increasingly targeted by sexual predators through social networking sites such as Facebook, police have revealed.
The warning comes during a week-long campaign by Lancashire Police to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation(CSE).
The latest figures show that 38 cases of children in the borough feared to be at risk of CSE – a form of abuse where young people are forced or manipulated into sexual activity – have been referred to police since April this year. Of these cases, all but one were underage girls, with 24 living at their family home and five in children’s homes.
Referrals have come from right across the borough, from areas such as Aughton, Ormskirk, Rufford and Skelmersdale.
A total of 19 suspected offenders have been identified in connection with these cases – which range from sending indecent images right through to allegations of rape.
In Southern Division, which covers West Lancs, Chorley and South Ribble, there were 192 cases of children feared to be at risk of CSE referred to police teams between April 2011 and March 2012 – up from 174 in the previous year. Across Lancashire, there were 1,494 referrals in that period with 645 suspected offenders identified.
One recent CSE conviction saw Dylan King, 21, from Liverpool, sentenced to 27 months in jail for engaging in sexual activity with a child under 16. King, who pled guilty to the charge, was sentenced on August 17 at Preston Crown Court. He befriended a 14-year-old girl after moving to Skelmersdale in 2010. His relationship with her went on for a year before his arrest in 2011. He has also been placed on the Sexual Offender’s register for 10 years.
Southern Division has a team of officers working on Operation Cherish to combat CSE. Incidents reported to Cherish mainly relate to young white girls aged between 13-16 involved with older males from 16 to late 40’s. One strategy police use to combat CSE is issuing abduction notices – where suspects are forbidden from contacting the child and if they do face being arrested for abduction. 20 have been issued in West Lancs since 2010. And while the internet is not the only way children are being targeted, Temporary Detective Sergeant Toni Andrews said there is an increasing problem with social networking sites such as Facebook in West Lancs.
She said: “While on these sites, children are often speaking to people that they do not know. “There have been several occasions when they have been asked by strangers to send pictures of themselves naked and engage in sexual chat which they have done. It is important that children realise that if they post a picture of themselves on the internet then this may not ever be removed and can be shared amongst hundreds and thousands of individuals.”
She warned parents to ensure their child is only speaking to people they know online, to be aware they have to be 13 to set up an account and to ensure security settings are high to avoid strangers contacting them. Anyone with concerns about CSE can contact police on 101. In an emergency always dial 999.
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