WITH crowds set to hit the north coast this Easter weekend, the Police Service of Northern Ireland are asking the public to be vigilant about a crime that may be hidden in plain sight.
As part of the Police’s ongoing ‘Make Safe’ campaign, local neighbourhood policing teams, alongside officers from the dedicated Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Team will be out on the streets of Portrush and Portstewart over the Easter weekend speaking to local businesses and members of the public – educating them on what to look out for that may indicate a child is at risk of CSE.
Examples of the signs people are being asked to look for are:
* Adults befriending young people
* Adults accompanying young people and acting in an intimate way with them
* Adults who are accompanying young people who look to be confused or distressed
* Adults buying alcoholic drinks for someone expected to be under 18
* Adults booking into a local hotel with a young person at odd times of the day/night
* Adult guests requesting a room that is isolated
* Adult guests accessing pornography in a room where you think a child may be
At present, there are currently seven children on the CSE risk register within the Northern Trust, encompassing Portrush and Portstewart. There has also been a reduction of a further ten children at risk over the last 12 months as a result of proactive investigations and multi-agency interventions.
With transportation links used more over the Easter holiday and people from all parts of Northern Ireland visiting the North Coast in particular, Police believe the risk to young people may be heightened or that perpetrators will use the guise of the busy Easter period to hide their criminal activity in plain sight.
National and local evidence shows that the numbers of children currently known to police to be at risk, may just be the tip of the iceberg. CSE can be present in hotels, pubs and other places licensed to sell alcohol and that taxis are used to transport young people who are then exploited. This Easter, there may also be perpetrators with their victims at local events or activities. Therefore it is vital that training and awareness raising is in place to teach people on how to spot the signs and give them the confidence to report to Police if they feel something is not right.
Chief Inspector Kerry Brennan, who will be leading this operation, said: “To date, our activity has been targeted more towards the night-time economy sector. However, this Easter we will be out and about during the day at local entertainment venues, because this crime just doesn’t happen under the cover of darkness.
“Children often don’t even realise they are at risk or that they are being exploited. Perpetrators of these crimes are incredibly manipulating and part of the grooming process can be to treat their child victims, by buying them gifts or bringing them to fun places they may otherwise not have the opportunity to go to.
“This is why it’s so important to arm our hospitality and entertainment sector and the wider public with the knowledge of how to spot the signs and the confidence to report their suspicions to the police.
“We have a dedicated team of officers who are trained to disrupt and bring offenders to justice. If you feel something is not right, please let us know – you will not be wasting our time.”
For further information see the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s website which includes the briefing material being distributed to the hospitality and entertainment sector this Easter.
If you’re concerned about a child’s welfare and think they may be being exploited please report it to police online, via 101 or 999 in an emergency.
You can also contact independent the charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or via crimestoppers-uk.org.