As child sexual exploitation (CSE) awareness day 2017 approaches (Saturday 18th March), Cleveland Police is highlighting the work of a recently established team whose work focuses heavily on CSE.
Detective Inspector Galloway
The VEMT (vulnerable, exploited, missing or trafficked) team was established in June 2016 and has already brought a number of investigations to court resulting in people being convicted of various offences.
Working at a local, regional, national and even international level, the team of detectives, problem solving officers and three Sergeants “operates” in cyberspace too – to safeguard the increasing numbers of children and young people being groomed or exploited over the internet.
VEMT Detective Inspector Cath Galloway and her colleagues also work closely with all four local authorities in the force area attending monthly meetings and following up concerns which are flagged up.
The multi-agency group monitors the lives of the children who are deemed to be most at risk of becoming exploited, missing or trafficked. DI Galloway also attends the regional VEMT meeting where officers from Durham, Cleveland and Northumbria regularly meet and share information on victims, perpetrators and locations.
Since June last year the VEMT team has dealt with a huge variety of complex cases; these include rescuing victims of human trafficking and familial grooming, CSE involving lone perpetrators and multiple victims, online grooming where the victims have then been coaxed into meeting in person, and also grooming and sexual offences involving female perpetrators.
Many of these cases have led to successful convictions at court or are going through the court process at the moment.
Detective Inspector Galloway explained: “The VEMT team has a huge remit and already has a large caseload. It is quite overwhelming how busy we have been in the few months since our inception. We have a number of cases on-going where we are working with local victims but the alleged perpetrator may not be in Cleveland - or even in the UK.
“The complex nature of our investigations- and our victims’ vulnerability - can mean our investigations are protracted but the victim’s wellbeing is always at the heart of our inquiry and we regularly rely on support, advice and input of specialist charities or organisations if this is appropriate.
“Like many members of the public, I think some of us were initially under the impression that CSE involved children on the streets who officers would encounter, and then “rescue”.
“That certainly can happen, but it’s also the case that CSE often takes place online, with children and young people engaging with social media at an ever earlier age.
“Perpetrators know they can target youngsters who are online within minutes; it’s actually frightening how quickly they can move in on a vulnerable child and persuade them into doing things they would never normally do.
“CSE can be difficult to uncover and to that end I’ve also been working with schools and health providers to advise on how to look for signs that all is not well with a child or young person.
“This could be a change in personality or in behaviour which leads us and our colleagues to ask why - and it could subsequently spark an investigation. I’d also encourage parents to take a more active part in what their children do both online and in person.
“In a recent case something as simple as a parent reading their child’s diary after her behaviour changed initiated a large investigation into sexual offences against multiple victims.
“The male suspect is now on remand awaiting sentence, but ultimately that one parent helped stop any more children being abused by taking that extra step in essentially digging into theirs child’s life a little more.
“Since January, we have been rolling out awareness training on human trafficking for all our frontline officers and this programme will be completed by the end of this month.
“My message today is to members of the public. It’s vital that you help us tackle child sexual exploitation. CSE is not just a matter for police or for social services – we need everyone’s help.
“If you see an adult repeatedly buying alcohol for children, if you see children or young people regularly going into an adult’s house for “a party” in fact if you see ANYTHING suspicious and something that just doesn’t feel right, please contact police. The welfare and safety of children and young people is everyone’s concern and we all have a moral obligation to protect them and keep them from harm.
“What is clear from my team’s work so far is that CSE and human trafficking is happening in every area where we all work and live.
“Every one of us has the right to question something if we are not happy about how something looks, whether it be professional curiosity in the places that we work or even suspicions about one of our own neighbours. This type of crime takes on so many different formats, it involves so many different perpetrators and victims that we can’t afford to be complacent or resort to lazy use of stereotyping.”
There is a variety of training events going on across Cleveland over the week leading up to CSE Awareness Day.
Middlesbrough Council hosted a community event yesterday (Monday) where residents and local faith groups learned more about safeguarding, CSE and what they can do to help tackle it.
Education leads are holding CSE awareness training for school safeguarding leads on 14th March, and Barnardos are awareness raising on Friday 17th near Primark in the Hill Street Centre with leaflets and giveaways. They will be there with Cleveland Police from 12 noon.