Police are warning communities across Ryedale about the dangers of child sexual exploitation and online grooming which can often see teenage girls “befriended” by older men.
It follows comments from Inspector Andy Everitt, the commander of the district’s police force, who revealed that several girls in Ryedale are being offered support after being targeted for sexual exploitation by much older men.
To raise awareness of the issue, the police are now considering visiting Ryedale’s secondary schools to warn of the dangers and offer advice on how to avoid becoming a potential victim of sexual exploitation which will often involve online grooming.
Guidance commissioned by education secretary Nicky Morgan last week is also seeing schools advised to teach children as young as 11 about rape and sexual consent.
The Government also announced last week that it is advising schools to teach children as young as 11 about rape and sexual consent
The campaign is part of a wider remit for the police in 2015 which is seeing officers focus on supporting “vulnerable people” across Ryedale, whether they be victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, suffering from mental health issues or find themselves at risk through drink or drug abuse.
Insp Everitt said: “One of our key priorities is supporting teenage girls who may be exploited by much older men through a number of mediums including social media. Certainly in Ryedale there are several teenage girls who are now being supported and we are investigating a number of individuals in relation to child exploitation and the use of online grooming as a tool.
“These sort of offences fit into the bigger picture of protecting vulnerable people in Ryedale and its important we raise awareness within this safe district.
“The existence of ‘virtual communities’ is a strange concept for many people in their understanding of what community is, however we know in today’s society many people spend a lot of their time connecting to their virtual community through social media.
“Having awareness of what your child is accessing and doing online is really important to ensure they remain safe. It is also really important that young people are very careful about what images they send on Snapchat and other social media applications.
Insp Everitt added: “Ryedale is one of the lowest crime areas in the country, however we are not immune to these real life issues. Perhaps the more rural districts and associated schools need to be really alive to these risks.
“Awareness raising has got to help. We need to keep working with parents and children as well as partner agencies to highlight the potential dangers and protect young people.
In depth advice about using the internet is offered to children of all ages, parents and teachers via www.thinkuknow.co.uk, a website backed by the National crime Agency and Childline, among other agencies.
It also has links to other web sites, such as www.ceop.police.uk, which helps children to stay safe online and www.getsafeonline.org, a website that is a one-stop-shop for all internet safety advice.
Police in Ryedale are also reporting a slight increase in sexual crimes over the past year - although many of the complaints are historcial and can date back as far as 20 years.
Insp Everitt believes the main catalyst for victims coming forward has been Operation Yewtree, the nationwide investigation launched by the police in the wake of the Jimmy Saville scandal.
“The stance taken by many victims of abuse committed by well- known celebrities has been a trigger for people who have been suffering for many, many years in silence after having being abused early in their lives,” he said. “We are beginning to see more people coming forward to report offences, irrespective of the length of time and we welcome this.
“I really hope that victims are beginning to feel more empowered and have confidence in coming forward so ourselves and other organisations can help them in their journey from abuse to recovery.”