A CAMPAIGN is driving home the warning signs of child sexual exploitation in a bid to halt and catch predators.
Parents have been urged to set out strict rules to reduce the risk of their children being targeted as part of Erase – a new effort which brings together police, NHS and councils across County Durham.
The Safer Durham Partnership-backed work will also see frontline staff from those organisations and schools trained to spot the signs of abuse, with 1,000 people already educated.
Last year was the first time Durham Constabulary broke through the 200 mark for prosecutions against those who access indecent images of children, with 24 children found to be exploited in such cases during the same period.
An increasing awareness of the issue, as well as work which sees a dedicated unit work alongside the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) has been credited for bringing the cases to court.
In addition to encouraging children, families and officials to pass on information – with the tiniest details likely to help build up a case – it aims to prevent, provide support and protect those most vulnerable.
Detective Superintendent Paul Goundry, of the force’s safeguarding unit, said: “It is something which is growing in County Durham and nationally.
“Predators understand the risk of meeting and what’s needed to abuse children, and that’s by coercing by taking photos and posting them online.
“It’s also interesting that statistically, it’s boys as well as girls online.
“Parents seem to be good at having difficult conversations with children, but not a lot are IT aware.
“Agree times when the children can go on the internet, because how confident are they their child isn’t going on at 1am when they’re asleep?
“No photos of themselves on the internet, such as on Facebook, without their authority, and not to give out details such as their address, school or telephone numbers.
“And if they come across any information to pass it on to Ceop or us.”
Helen Murphy, strategic coordinator for sexual violence strategy with Erase, added: “We know there is a lot of under-reporting when it comes to children and young people.
“Maybe they don’t realise, the predator maybe their boyfriend who thinks they are looking after them, maybe they are ashamed and it might be they don’t know who to contact.
“Sometimes a person has an idea sexual abuse is going on, but this will raise awareness they can pass that information on.”