UNIfied reveals the number of reported child sexual exploitation (CSE) cases from each district in Kent.
A Freedom of Information (FOI) has revealed that Canterbury, Medway and Maidstone are the top three areas in Kent with the highest rates of reported child sexual exploitation.
The figures also revealed that Kent Police received a total of 194 reports for child sexual exploitation from April 1, 2018 to October 31, 2018.
During the seven-month period, Canterbury made the top of the list with 28 cases of reported child sexual exploitation.
MP for Canterbury, Rosie Duffield was ‘alarmed’ by the figures and states that she will be writing to the authorities to raise her concerns about child sexual exploitation in Canterbury.
Rosie said: “These figures are alarmingly high. Just one case involving sexual exploitation of a child would be one case too many.
“I will be writing to the Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent to see how he plans to help local forces tackle the issue and for reassurance that it is a major part of strategic planning for policy in the county.”
Canterbury Liaison Officer for Kent Police, Shannon-Louise Eagar notes that constant change in gang culture can make it difficult to tackle, but urges the public to get on board and report any potential victims of gang grooming or child sexual exploitation.
Shannon said: “We have operations in place to combat gang issues; as you can imagine, gang culture is always changing and it is important for us to encourage members of the public to report any information or dealing around gangs, which can help us piece together a bigger picture. We do liaise with other police forces when talking about county lines.”
The district of Medway followed after with 22 cases, while Maidstone ranked the third area in Kent with the most CSE reports.
Experts are warning that official figures are only ‘the tip of the iceberg’ as more than half of child sexual exploitation cases will go unreported unless the victim comes forward.
School authorities have also spoken out about the struggles of detecting potential victims because of the lack of training and awareness.
UNIfied have spoken to school staff who have faced barriers when reporting a potential CSE victim. As it stands, if there has been a report of a child being sexually exploited, the police and social services will need sufficient evidence that it’s taking place before they can take the relevant actions.
Kendra Houseman works with vulnerable children in Thanet, especially those of ‘high risks’ of being groomed into gangs or sexually exploited. She believes that there are barriers that victims face when it comes to reporting to the police.
She said: “I have worked with kids where I know [sexual exploitation] is happening but there’s no evidence. I’ll go to the social services and they’ll ask if there’s proof. There’s nothing.”
Kendra also states that there is a need for a direct helpline to report any potential CSE victims to Kent Police.
She continued: “There’s no direct line apart from child line or NSPCC [all charities]. They know there’s no point in calling them.”
UNIfied has also found that there is a strong link between deprived, crime ridden areas and places that have high levels of reported child sexual exploitation cases.
One example is the district of Thanet which made headlines when local schools spoke out about the growing problem of gangs trafficking and sexually exploiting children. Due to the increase of county lines gangs operating in Kent; poorer, coastal towns like Thanet have seen an influx of drug related crime happening in the area – alongside child sexual exploitation reports.
However, it is not just coastal towns that county line gangs target, it can also be deprived areas with direct train lines to London such as Medway. Ex-police officer, Michael Wearing, believes that towns with increasing levels of gang activity will ultimately result in higher levels of child sexual exploitation.
Michael states that criminals will always leave ‘footprints’ with each crime they commit. He notes that the rising number of child sexual exploitation cases in the county is just another ‘footprint’ of crimes that gangs and drug dealers commit in Kent.
He said: “I certainly know of gangs operating in Medway. The way to look if they are committing crime is to look at the footprint that goes with it.
“There is little doubt that there will be problems of child sexual exploitation in Kent. It is the difficulty in detecting where they are happening, but it is all down to vulnerability of the person and the place they live in.”
Detective Chief Inspector, Lee Whitehead from Kent Police said that any reports of children being sexually exploited are treated as a ‘priority’ and a safeguarding measure will be put in place as soon as a report is received.
Detective Whitehead also acknowledged Canterbury’s alarmingly high number of CSE cases.
He said: “Cases involving child sexual exploitation are a priority for the force and our focus is always the victim and ensuring they are safe and have the support that they need. This is the case not just for Canterbury but for the whole country.
“Because we take all allegations of child sexual exploitation very seriously each report is recorded as a crime immediately so that we can start our investigation and put safeguarding measures in place straight away.”