Lancashire Police’s East Division has had the highest number of child sexual exploitation referrals in every quarter bar one over a three year period.
Across the county, there was a rise of more than 20% between 2012 and 2015 in the number of reports of sexual offences committed against under 16s and a rise of nearly 24% in the number of referrals made around child sexual exploitation in the same time period.
East Division, which includes Burnley, Pendle and the Ribble Valley, has seen a minimum of 103 referrals in any quarter over the last three years, with the highest number standing at 188.
In Lancashire, 110 people have already been arrested this year alone regarding abuse of children online. The figures have been released as Det. Chief Supt Ian Critchley, Lancashire Police’s Head of Crime, has outlined the ways that the force is working to tackle child abuse and exploitation.
Det. Chief Supt Critchley said: “Protecting the public from harm and abuse, particularly the most vulnerable, is an absolute priority for Lancashire Constabulary and it is within this area that we have seen a large increase in our caseload over the last few years. We are proud of our approach to protecting vulnerable people and protecting our communities from the harm of organised criminality, and we have been recognised nationally around our work in tackling child sexual exploitation.
“We are not complacent in any way and we are continuing to seek to develop our service against a backdrop of austerity.”
The aim has always got to be to stop and prevent harm in the first place by investing upstream in early action initiativesDet Chief Supt Critchley
As well as the changing nature of police demand and increase in CSE referrals at present, there has also been in increase in the number of reports of historic child abuse and a team of specialist officers investigating these allegations are currently working on more than 20 active investigations.
Det Chief Supt Critchley added: “The public quite rightly expect the police to deal with and protect them from the likes of child abuse, CSE, online and cybercrime and we continue to face the challenge in terms of resources, time and expertise, to balance offering routes to justice for those who suffered in the past while safeguarding and protecting children in a vulnerable position now.
“The nature of demand is changing and we are responding to that, but these demands aren’t always the ones visible to the public.
“For example, we have a team of officers dedicated to proactively policing the internet and identifying those seeking to groom young people and share abhorrent indecent child abuse images.
“This team has already arrested more than 110 individuals so far this year as a result of their investigative work.
“Another area that isn’t visible to the public is the management of around 1,700 registered sexual and violent offenders on a daily basis.
“The aim has always got to be to stop and prevent harm in the first place by investing upstream in early action initiatives. We aim to ensure that when harm and abuse has occurred that people are confident to come forward and seek help straight away, but we do recognise this can take time and with historic cases, victims are only now overcoming personal challenges and gaining the strength to report what has happened to them many years ago.
“We encourage this and will treat every enquiry sensitively, professionally and we will investigate thoroughly.”
The figures and comments follow the publication of two inspection reports by HMIC about the role of police in keeping children safe and how forces deal with online sexual abuse of children.
On the reports, Det. Chief Supt Critchley added: “Whilst elements of the HMIC reports are disappointing and highlight the gaps around the protection of children and policing online child abuse crimes, we are determined to continue to learn, work with communities, victims and partners to increase awareness, the confidence to report incidents and provide the necessary support to victims throughout the investigation.”