Five men and a boy, all from Sussex, have been charged conspiring to arrange the prostitution of a child. The charges follow a 12 month investigation by police and relate to a 16 year old girl. The charges, authorised by the Crown Prosecution Service, follow a 12 month investigation, Operation Firehill, by East Sussex detectives into information that the girl, from Brighton, had allegedly been subjected to the offences whilst staying at a flat in Newhaven in May last year. This is the first prosecution in Sussex for alleged child sexual exploitation by a group. Detective Chief Inspector Mark Ling said;

“Although this case is now before the courts, we can say that all reports of this type will be taken seriously and investigated wherever possible. Anyone with information about such alleged offending can contact us via 101 at any time via 101 or email [email protected] and arrange to speak in confidence to detectives. We can also help arrange access to a range of other support.”

The news comes as Sussex Police try to make officers and the public more aware of the signs of child exploitation. They estimate more than a hundred young people in the county could be at risk of systematic sexual exploitation by older youths or men. A briefing for agencies involved in tackling the problem, including local authorities, other support services, and charities, is taking place at Sussex Police headquarters in Lewes later today (23 May). You can watch a video of Temporary Deputy Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney by clicking here. Olivia Pinkney said;

“There is no current evidence that this pernicious activity, which corrupts the lives of vulnerable young people, is frequent in Sussex, but we believe there needs to be an extra focus on the issue to encourage reporting so that a fuller picture can be established and children better protected.   “We are already working with partners in local authorities and partners in other statutory and voluntary agencies, to develop a fuller picture of the way in which sexual exploitation can happen.   “And all police officers and staff, especially all those engaged on operations and intelligence, as well as our call handlers, are being specially briefed on the warning signs.”

Attendees at the briefing will include representatives from; all three top- tier local authorities in Sussex; all three independent Local Safeguarding Childrens’ Boards (LSCBs); Barnardo’s ‘Sus-sex B Safe‘ service covering East and West Sussex: WISE (‘What Is Sexual Exploitation’) from Brighton and Hove; and ‘Catch 22‘ who offer a range of support services in East Sussex. But the public can help too. The warning signs to look for can include one or more of; – a child has unexplained gifts or unaffordable new things such as clothes or mobile, or expensive habits such as alcohol or drugs; – they have substance misuse problems; – they often go missing, run away or are homeless; – they are not engaged with their school and/or have been excluded or have long periods of truancy; – they have repeated sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy and terminations; – they associate with men or groups who are older than them, or are in contact with people who are known to commit crime. What is Child Sexual Exploitation? Olivia Pinkney added;

“This is a complex subject, the signs are not always clear, and the causes and impacts are part of deep-rooted social issues, which needs and will receive a co-ordinated response from the police and all our partners.

Katy Bourne said;

“No child should ever be the victim of this kind of horrific abuse and agencies that work with children have a collective responsibility to work together to stamp it out.   “As Police and Crime Commissioner, I want all victims and those at risk of abuse, to know they have somewhere to go where they will be listened to and believed. Most importantly of all, when a young person does come forward, swift action must be taken.   “Earlier this year, following a supportive public consultation, I increased the police precept to fund future investment in Sussex Police so that they can effectively tackle serious sexual offending including child sexual exploitation.   “This extra funding will allow Sussex Police to bring the management and investigation of sexual offences and safeguarding of children and adults into a dedicated team that will have the capacity and specially trained officers to provide improved victim care.   “I hope that this will increase public confidence to report such offences, result in more victims having the confidence to complete the criminal justice system or seek other solutions, and keep people in Sussex safe from offenders.”