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CSE NI: Parents of victims “can feel like their child has died”

The devastating impact of child sexual exploitation on the family of victims was highlighted by police at the NIASW/ BASPCAN CSE conference in Antrim.

DI Hazel Stewart from Lancashire Constabulary, which has dealt with a number of high profile cases, said: “Parents can feel devastated when told a child has been victim of child sexual exploitation, as if they are being told their child has died.”

She said they can feel violated and powerless during the prosecution process and when investigators have to enter their home to gather evidence, which may involve removing computers and phones.

Child sexual exploitation is suspected in the disappearance of 14-year-old Lancashire schoolgirls Charlene Downes in 2003 and 16-year-old Paige Chivers, who went missing in 2006, both from Blackpool.

DI Stewart, who has undertaken a “scoping exercise” of the problem in her constabulary, said: “Child sexual exploitation is not a crime like burglary or car theft – these are acknowledged and resourced."

DI Stewart said she told other forces contacting her asking why child sexual exploitation appeared such a problem in Lancashire that child sexual exploitation exists everywhere and those that hadn’t found any evidence in their constabulary "hadn't looked for it”.

DI Stewart stressed professionals need to build relationships with victims and make them feel able to talk if perpetrators are to be apprehended and prosecuted, adding: “No one feels comfortable describing sexual encounters to strangers. Why would we expect children to?”

The Crown Prosecution Service has issued new guidance on prosecuting cases of child sexual abuse which put the focus on the credibility of the allegation rather than the witness. DI Stewart hailed this as an "important shift" in the right direction.

Police in Lancashire have set up a specialist teams to give support to victims and families as well as launching an investigation into the online activities of perpetrators in chat rooms and other sites.

The force is also part of a pan-Lancashire awareness raising week called “The more you know the more you see”, involving the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, the council, and third sector organisations.

View DI Stewart’s presentation to the 2013 NIASW/ BASPCAN conference here