SHOCK new figures reveal 10 youngsters a week are reported to police in East Lancashire because they are at high risk of sexual exploitation.
Now officers are to recruit people from all walks of life to look out for warning signs.
Police in the areas two divisions will train librarians, hoteliers, taxi drivers, parents, teachers, foster parents, youth club organisers and religious leaders to spot the signs of sexual grooming at a special conference.
Today they launched a week-long campaign to increase people’s understanding of sexual exploitation.
They believe hundreds of children across the county are being coerced into illegal sexual relationships in return for alcohol, drugs, affection and gifts.
In Pennine division, which covers Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale, more than 160 cases have been identified between January and September to the Operation Freedom team.
And these figures are replicated by Eastern division’s, Engage team, which covers Blackburn with Darwen, Hyndburn and the Ribble Valley.
DS Sheralyn Melton, who runs the Freedom team, said: “One of the major problems we come across is that most of our victims do not see themselves as victims.
“On many occasions we meet young children some just 11-years-old who actually believe they are in a consensual relationship with an adult male.
“It is like the child has had it drummed into them so much that they think it’s normal.
“The way society sees these children also doesn’t help. People judge the children on how they may dress or act but in reality there will be many reasons behind why they are acting older than their years.
“If we are investigating an instance of grooming, we are too late, the abuse has already happened. We are about preventing abuse and safeguarding children. That is why we are trying to educate the community on the signs of grooming.”
The training will involve looking out for unexplained gifts or money, secretive mobile phone use, being friends with significantly older people, truancy from school and being collected from home or school by strangers.
People, such as librarians and youth leaders, will also be asked to keep a close eye on suspicious internet use.
Between April 2011 and March 2012 there were 1,494 child sexual exploitation referrals in Lancashire.
Around 89 per cent of these referrals relate to females and 11 per cent to males. Statistics also show 92 percent of these referrals were white British, 85 per cent lived in a family home, 10 per cent lived in children’s homes and three per cent lived with foster parents.
One young grooming victim from Burnley said she became involved after meeting older men through her older siblings and being taken for a drive.
She said: “Looking back I think what did a 25-year-old man want with a 12-year-old girl? I thought the men were my friends. I couldn’t see anything was wrong. They were kind to me and made me feel special.
“I would stay out all night and perform sexual acts with the men.
“When it was pointed out to me this was wrong, I couldn’t believe I had been so naive.”
The exploitation teams are made up representatives from the police, social services, Early Breaks – a drug and alcohol dependency charity, a sexual health practitioner, a missing from home co-ordinator.
Many of the team’s current referrals come from concerned schools and GP’s.
Statistics show 645 child groomers were identified by Lancashire police between April 2011 and March 2012. Around 96 per cent of those groomers were male and three per cent were female.
In total 77 per cent of groomers were classed as white British, nine per cent were Asian Pakistani and three per cent were Asian Indian.