Blackburn Council has joined forces with Lancashire police, a sexual health charity and the drug and alcohol charity Lifeline to form Engage, a team dedicated to tackling the sexual exploitation of young people.
The Engage team at the launch of the project
The team aims to track down offenders who groom teenagers for sex and offer support and protection to young victims and their families.
In the past six months:
- The team has worked with more than 20 young people
- Police have issued 20 Section 2 warning notices to men suspected of having inappropriate relationships with children
- Police have carried out five full surveillance operations against men suspected of exploiting children sexually and their victims
- In the last three months, Engage's work has led to more than 60 charges relating to child abduction, rape and sexual activity with a child, being brought before the courts
Based in Blackburn town centre, the unit has a dedicated phone line that victims can call for support and advice. The number - (01254) 267790 - features on leaflets and information cards that have been produced for young people, their families and professionals working with young people. People can also email the team: email@example.com
Engage was launched earlier this year with 200 school staff, health workers and other professionals attending. Delegates watched the premiere of a short film, "But I Thought He Loved Me", that tells the story of two schoolgirls who meet an older man and are drawn into exploitation. The film was produced by staff at Our Lady and St John High School, Blackburn.
Laurence Loft, chair of the Lancashire Safeguarding Children Board, said:
"Anyone with a concern or suspicion of sex grooming now has a single point of contact to hand over crucial information.
"No one agency can deal with this problem alone. It requires a multi-agency response to ensure all three strands are responded to - prevention, protection and prosecution. Blackburn with Darwen has taken this problem seriously and has committed resources to supporting agencies to deal with it.
"It is a challenging and complex area but one we believe deserves our support."
Head of Lancashire Constabulary's public protection unit, Det Supt Graham Herrmann, said:
"Lancashire Constabulary has recognised the hidden harm of child sexual exploitation.
"Work is ongoing on various projects to protect young people who are at risk and we are pleased to be working with the authorities across Lancashire, particularly Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council on Operation Engage to identify those people who are at risk and work together to protect those young people in the future."
Teenage Sex For Sale: Panorama BBC One 10.35pm on Thursday 27 March 2008.