A pioneering project aimed at combating child sexual exploitation has led to almost 1,000 people undergoing a dedicated course.
Taxi drivers, security staff, social landlords, hotel and fast food outlet staff have all taken part in training sessions.
The move is part of a joint venture between South Tyneside Council and Northumbria Police to raise awareness of the signs to look out for which could signal they are in the presence of a victim and what they can do to help.
It is just one of a number of initiatives taking place to help give people a better understanding of the issue and to make the borough safer for its residents and visitors.
Since it’s launch, last year, there has been a 53 per cent increase in people reporting concerns.
The course has also been expanded to include training in relation to vulnerability, particularly relevant to the night time economy.
Coun Joan Atkinson, lead member for children, young people and families, added: “Independent reviews have highlighted that Child Sexual Exploitation needs to be everyone’s business. We all have a role to play in keeping children and young people safe and I’m delighted that the council is taking such a proactive approach to this issue. Since rolling out the training last year, Northumbria Police have seen a 53 per cent increase in people reporting concerns which shows that our approach to raising awareness is proving to be extremely effective.”
Inspector Paul Young said: “Protecting vulnerable people is a priority for us, particularly children. This training is an excellent example of working together with the council and our community to help keep young people safe from predator offenders.
“The training will help workers and residents in the town centre help spot the signs of child sexual exploitation. They really are the eyes and ears of the community and could significantly help us tackle the issue.
“If you spot any unusual behaviour or suspect anything untoward, please do contact police. It may be nothing and there may be a simple explanation but it could also be the call that prevents someone becoming a victim of this sort of terrible crime.”
The training session comes on the back of the Jay Report into the Rotherham scandal which said more than 1,400 children were abused in the town between 1997 and 2013. With many of the victims ferried to their abusers in cabs.
This has led to a move by the council to ensure all taxi drivers have undertaken training over child sexual exploitation as a condition of receiving their licence.
Over the past year a total of 638 taxi drivers, private hire operators and call handlers working in taxi offices; 204 staff from licensed premises across the borough; eight guest house and hotel staff; six Street Angels; 15 landlords from the social landlord sector people and 30 members of the council’s Safetrader scheme.
Coun Moira Smith, lead member for area management and community safety, said: “Here in South Tyneside we are committed to raising awareness of the issues relating to Child Sexual Exploitation. We work closely with our partners, including Northumbria Police, and have already engaged a number of key local business sectors to make them aware of what child sexual exploitation is, what to look out for, and how to report any concerns. We will continue with our awareness raising to ensure our wider business community are well informed and can act as ‘eyes and ears’ across the borough. We are already seeing positive outcomes as a result of the awareness raising events.”
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird, said: “It’s incredibly important that everyone is aware of CSE and the signs to look out for - so victims are given the help and support they need and those responsible for it are brought to the police’s attention. Working closely with partners to tackle key issues, through training initiatives like this in South Shields, is something that as a force, we do very well at. I will ensure that Northumbria Police continues to work with a variety of people and organisations throughout our local communities to help identify victims of child sexual exploitation which will in turn lead us to offenders.”