Suffolk: Police pledge to protect young and vulnerable from growing threat of exploitation by city gangs
10:05 26 July 2014
In a blaze of emotive headlines the exploitation of vulnerable young people by drug dealers and sexual predators has come under the national spotlight over the last two years.
Suffolk police stress they are not blind to what has happened elsewhere and concede there has been a noticeable growth in harder-edged drug dealers targeting Suffolk from London in particular.
With no morals or consciences they do not think twice about preying on vulnerable youngsters and using them as drug mules or for sex.
Officers are at pains to point out that although there has been a noticeable increase in this pattern of grooming, Suffolk does not have a major problem.
However, a line in the sand is being drawn to ensure it does not get a foothold.
Exploitation comes in many guises and in various forms of criminality.
Big city drug dealers befriend vulnerable young females, showering them with money and gifts.
Young women can also be trafficked for sexual exploitation or be preyed up by paedophiles over the internet.
Being part of a gang can feel like having a family for some, encouraging a willingness to carry or deal drugs.
Detective Constable Janet Humphrey, who is based in Ipswich, has received national accolades for her work in Suffolk’s pioneering on-street prostitution strategy.
She understands the deep emotional scars left on those exploited and abused.
Dc Humphrey said: “We are still offering help to a girl who is still so traumatised that she can’t speak about what went on around two years ago.
“We don’t really know what happened to her.
“On a lot of occasions victims can take two or more years to finally have the confidence to tell you what has gone on.
“Though the girl tells me something happened she couldn’t go into the details two-and-a-half years down the line. She’s still fearful of the man and that gang.
“These men come up from London and they can see they can target vulnerable young women often aged between 14 and 17.
“They befriend them, tell them they love them, give them presents. They will take them places, make them feel special and that they are the only one for them. Then they say ‘if your really love me you will do this for me’.
“Then it gets more and more serious and they will do whatever they are told to do. It’s classic grooming and sexual exploitation.
“It is not a big issue in Suffolk, but it is something we are becoming aware of. It’s a trend we are aware of and because of that we and the Make A Change team are working really closely with young women and men who are at risk of exploitation.
“Some of the young people don’t see the exploitation and you really have to break down that barrier and teach them that what is happening to them is not right.”
“They (the criminals) will have groomed either the boy or girl to the point where they don’t want ’to say anything at all.”
“There are a lot of young people who are at risk of child sexual exploitation.
“Suffolk is becoming aware of these gangs, but we have not got a serious problem yet. However, we are aware that these people are coming this way and if we can stop them doing that we have done our job.
“We shouldn’t close our eyes to the possibility of issues occurring in this area when you hear about what has gone on in Rochdale and Oxford.
“We have to work together.
“People think it only happens in places like London, Birmingham, and Manchester and it doesn’t happen in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds or Newmarket - but it could.”
Earlier this month Home Secretary Theresa May criticised public bodies for failing to act on child abuse allegations after the exploitation of boys and girls.
Mrs May said: “In recent years, we have seen appalling cases of organised and persistent child sex abuse.
“This includes abuse by celebrities like Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris, as well as the systematic abuse of vulnerable girls in Derby, Rochdale, Oxford and other towns and cities.
“Some of these cases have exposed a failure by public bodies to take their duty of care seriously and some have shown that the organisations responsible for protecting children from abuse – including the police, social services and schools – have failed to work together properly.”
Last month six men were charged by child exploitation officers investigating a catalogue of alleged sex crimes against teenage girls in Oxfordshire.
The allegations are said to have occurred between 2011 and 2014.
The arrests came 12 months after seven men who were part of a sadistic child sex grooming ring in Oxford were jailed at the Old Bailey
The men’s offences included child rape, arranging child prostitution and trafficking, between 2004 and 2012.
The girls were mostly chosen because their unsettled or troubled lives made them easier to manipulate.
In July 2012 eight men were convicted in Derby of plying “vulnerable” teenage girls with alcohol, drugs and gifts before paying them for sex.
The girls, who were 15, were believed to have been part of a bigger group of youngsters being picked up from the streets for sex in 2009 and 2010. It was the second major prosecution in Derby of its kind.
Two months earlier nine men were convicted at Liverpool Crown Court of being part of a child sexual exploitation ring in Greater Manchester.
The men, from Rochdale and Oldham, “groomed” girls, one as young as 13.
Liverpool Crown Court heard the men plied their victims with drink and drugs so they could “pass them around” and use them for sex.
The offences included rape, trafficking girls for sex and conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with a child.
A failed police investigation in 2008 after a 15-year-old victim became pregnant by one of the defendants, allowed the abuse to go undetected for another two years.
After the verdicts, GMP and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) apologised for failing to bring her case to trial following her cry for help.