"The difficult part is getting a child to understand they are a victim."
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This is the toughest part of the job that Detective Constable Chris Perry, a detective who is based in the force’s multi-agency Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) team, faces on a daily basis.
The CSE team was introduced in 2014 as a dedicated resource to tackle the important issue around the sexual exploitation of children across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.
The team consists of representatives from the police, social care, health and other support workers to ensure a joined-up approach is taken to safeguard children.
Chris, who has been in the team for over two years, talks about his role as a detective in the team and the challenge of getting young people to understand and see themselves as victims.
Chris said: “I have been a police officer for 18 years and while this is one of my most rewarding roles, it is certainly the most challenging.
“I often say that people call the police when they need our help whether that is to attend an incident or to report a crime, they want to talk us, but with CSE, it is often quite different. For example you receive a report from a school or through social care with concerns around CSE and when you visit that child, they very frequently don’t want speak to you or disclose anything. This makes building that wider picture around that initial concern harder from the very start.
“It really is about starting at the beginning and getting to know and understand that child, their lifestyle and why they are in that position. This can be lengthily process and I have worked on cases for more than a year to gently build that trust with a child and reach a point when they are comfortable to speak to us.
“We very often find that children don’t see themselves as victims. They have been groomed and manipulated to a degree where they believe that the person who has exploited them hasn’t done anything wrong and hasn’t committed a crime. It is hard to see but ultimately makes you more determined in taking that right approach to gain their trust to ensure they recognise that you are there to help and support them and importantly make them realise what has happened to them and may well be continuing to happen is wrong.”
Chris is part of team of specialist detectives and he manages an allocated number of cases which he investigates. This includes a variety of different elements which could be investigating a case to bring it to court to focusing on safeguarding that particular child. The safeguarding element of policing is something Chris has always been interested in and that definitely plays a big part of the work around CSE. Some children don’t always want to engage with police during an investigation and don’t support taking a case through to court. There are other ways that the police can deal with those suspected of committing CSE offences such as issuing Child Abduction Warning Notices (CAWN) and other control measures such as sexual harm prevention orders. Sexually exploited children can often go missing and the CSE team works closely with the force’s Missing Persons Team and other agencies to put in measures and support to try and establish why they are making these choices to leave their address.
Chris acknowledges that social media does seem to play a part in the increase around CSE, as expected in particular with those cases which materialise online.
Chris said: “As we know social media has grown significantly in recent years and we are seeing more and more offences committed online where contact has established between offenders and victims through these particular sites. It does create a challenge for us but it’s an area where we have focused our investigative skills in and the team works closely with colleagues in the Digital Media hub who are highly skilled at viewing social media accounts and accessing devices such as mobiles and laptops for data including images shared and websites viewed.”
Chris’s message around how to help stop CSE would be to ask parents to be aware of the signs of CSE and talk to their children.
He added: “The best advice is to encourage parents and guardians to talk to their children about their online activity, including the apps they are using and be familiar with the signs that a child is being sexually exploited, such as a change in behaviour, unaccounted for money, or new gifts. I know that children want and rightly deserve their own privacy and don’t always tell their parents or guardians about certain things; I’m a parent myself so I know what it’s like! But if you show a certain level of interest in who your child is talking to online, or you know what to look for to ensure they are not being sexually exploited, this will hopefully help to eradicate a crime which has a devastating and long lasting effect on those children and their families.”
Information around CSE can be found by visiting https://www.leics.police.uk/advice/advice-and-information/caa/child-abuse/child-sexual-exploitation/
Detective Constable Chris Perry