Page last updated at 06:03 GMT, Monday, 10 May 2010 07:03 UK
Protect your child from sex exploitation
Teenagers generic image
Gifts of mobile phones, alcohol or drugs can be indications of exploitation

A new investigation by BBC Shropshire has revealed worrying evidence of child sex exploitation in the county.

Telford and Wrekin Council and West Mercia Police say they need parents' help in tackling the problem.

The crimes involve both individuals and organised groups targeting vulnerable girls through the internet, on the way home from school, or at public events.

But how do parents spot the signs, and what can they do about it if they think their child is involved?

Agencies in Telford have revealed that they are working with 40 girls, thought to be the victims or targets of grooming, trafficking or other forms of sex exploitation.

There are currently no known cases in other parts of Shropshire, although West Mercia Police are identifying adults involved wherever they are based in the area.

Signs to look out for

  • Has your child started staying out overnight?
  • Have they been missing from home?
  • Have they started to truant from school?
  • Have they started coming home with money, clothes, jewellery or mobile phones they can't account for?
  • Have they begun a relationship with an older boyfriend or men that you are concerned about?
  • Have you had concerns that they could be using drugs and/or alcohol?
  • Has there been a change in their mood or behaviour?
  • Are they losing contact with family and friends of their own age and spending time with an older age group?
  • Do they lack self-esteem?
  • Are they secretive about where they have been and with whom?
  • Are they chatting online to people you have never met?

What can be done?

Local agencies want to identify the people targeting and abusing children. They also want to support the young people involved and their families. They promise to treat information in complete confidence.

You are not alone - agencies are already working with other children thought to be victims or targets.

If you suspect that your child has been the target of sex exploitation in Telford, contact the Children and Young People department on:

01952 385700 (office hours)
01952 676500 (out of hours)

Elsewhere in the county, if you believe you or your child has been targeted, contact Shropshire Council on 0345 678 90 08.

Wherever you're based in Shropshire, you can also contact the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000 or West Mercia Police on 0300 333 3000.

Stay safe online

Many of the cases we've uncovered, as part of our investigations, involve adults approaching children after school, or at underage events. However, across the country adults are increasingly using the internet to groom children and persuade them to meet face-to-face.

Most young people use social networking sites like Bebo, Facebook and Myspace, and there are some simple ways children can protect themselves when online:

  • Make sure your profile is only viewable by your friends.
  • Do not approve friends to your network that you don't know in real life.
  • Don't post personal information like your full name, where you live, what school you go to, etc to a public area online.
  • Consider using a false name online, and setting up a separate e-mail address to register for sites.



SEE ALSO
Mum reveals how child was groomed
10 May 10 |  TV & Radio
Investigating child exploitation
10 May 10 |  TV & Radio


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