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Why investing to protect children delivers results for everyone

In her latest blog, Alison explains how preventing children from being victims of crime benefits us all and National CSE Awareness Day.

This week Police and Crime Commissioners from around the country will be celebrating the contribution that they and their staff make towards keeping people safe.

Being a relatively new role (PCCs only replaced police authorities in 2012) our job is perhaps not as well understood as it could be. People might know that we set our forces’ budget and strategic direction, but the work we do to reduce crime and its causes is equally important.

A campaign by the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners #PCCsMakingaDifference will this week aim to celebrate good practice so it can be recognised and shared around the country.

As I’ve said before in this column I’m a great believer in careful commissioning of services to prevent crime in the first place. Evidence tells us that the long-term effects of crime can be horrendous, particularly if those crimes occur to children.

A recent Department of Health report is among those to identify so-called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) as having long-term impacts on people’s lives. The higher the number of ACEs, the more likely an individual is to suffer from long-term health problems, be unemployed, become a victim of further crimes or go on to commit crime themselves.

One study suggested that 12% of binge drinking, 14% of poor diet, 23% of smoking, 52% of violence perpetration, 59% of heroin and crack cocaine use and 38% of unintended teenage pregnancy prevalence nationally could be attributed to ACE experience below the age of 18. Reducing these rates would improve health, reduce crime and also save money.

One persistent cause of ACEs is child sexual exploitation (CSE). It’s an area that huge strides have been made in recent years, but more needs to be done. On Monday (18th) a national day of awareness aimed to highlight both the damage caused by CSE and offer help for its victims.

While media reports often highlight cases of adult grooming and child abuse, Devon and Cornwall Police says the most likely form of child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the south west is perpetrated by other young people.

It’s sometimes referred to as ‘peer on peer’ exploitation, and its victims are young males and young females.

Recent research led by Plymouth’s Safeguarding Children’s Board found little awareness and understanding among young people of peer-on-peer sexual exploitation.

Their research showed that this form of exploitation in particular was not widely recognised or understood as a crime - preventing children from reporting it.

They found that young people are also not reporting sexual exploitation because they worry that doing so would lose them friendships, they are concerned about how their parents might react or that they’ll be seen as wasting police time.

Our message to young people is that if you are put in a situation where you feel pressured sexually, please report it. It’s OK to tell someone.

Fortunately some excellent work is going on locally in terms of engaging young people and advising them of the dangers in this area. My office helps to fund community safety partnerships, which are made up of people from local authorities, police, the NHS and others. Together we are working in a number of ways to reduce CSE and its impact in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

This includes training people who are best placed to spot signs of child sexual exploitation and identify vulnerable young people. In practical terms it means training members of our communities and rolling our education programmes in schools.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of crime there are a number of local and national agencies that can help, including Barnado’s, NWG, NSPCC, as well as local Safeguarding Children’s Boards including the NHS, Social Care, Education and the Police.

More information about Child Sexual Exploitation and NWG’s CSE Awareness Day, 18 March 2019, is available on Devon and Cornwall Police’s website, and services for victims of crime, whether that crime has been reported or not, are available from the Victim Care Network 

Alison Hernandez