A crackdown on child sexual exploitation in North Wales has resulted in a tenfold increase in arrests.
The news was revealed by outgoing North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, Winston Roddick CB QC, during a visit to the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) in Old Colwyn.
According to Mr Roddick, who has chosen not to stand for re-election, North Wales is leading the way when it comes to investigating sexual offences.
After Mr Roddick vowed to step up the fight against child sexual exploitation in North Wales, two new specialist teams were set up last year – the ONYX and POLIT teams.
There has been a big increase in the number of arrests of perpetrators – up from 10 last year to 107 in the first few months of this year.
Mr Roddick said: “The police scene has changed radically and even the offences that are being routinely investigated now have changed. Offences are commonly now of a type that we had rarely encountered just a few years ago.
“Child sexual abuse and exploitation, grooming, human slavery and trafficking both in a physical context and via the World Wide Web are offences that we had rarely heard of three years ago.
“And as the governance of police forces has changed then whoever is in charge of running a modern police force needs to realise that sexual crimes and the way that they are now perpetrated are abundant and often, long lasting in their effect.”
“I take great pride in the fact I have been able to witness, during my time as the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales, the way in which agencies work together to identify investigate and support victims of sexual offences of all ages, in particular children and young people who are victims of these crimes.”
SARC manager, Sarah Staveley, who is employed by the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, said: “As well as health board and police staff working from the SARC we also work very closely with third sector partners The Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre North Wales and Stepping Stones who also use the centre to provide counselling services for victims in North Wales.
“The SARC opened in 2010 and we have seen a significant increase in the number of referrals and victims seeking assistance and advice following sexual assaults.
“This is, I believe, due to a number of factors which may include raised public awareness of sexual offences in light of the recent national investigations around this type of offending.
“Victims are able to seek advice and support without formally reporting to the police, whether this is recent or in the past. They can be supported to make a formal report to the police if they so choose. The rise in reports may also reflect an increase in public confidence in the police’s ability to investigate crimes of this nature sensitively.”
She added: “At SARC we have a fantastic facility where we are able to undertake forensic medical examinations of adults and children as well as follow up health and sexual health checks. The facility also incorporates video interview rooms and counselling rooms”
She added: “Mr Roddick has been a big supporter of our work and funded an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor and a Children and Young Peoples Sexual Violence Adviser.
Detective Sergeant Sarah Fellows of the Onyx Child Sexual Exploitation team was delighted with the team’s progress since it was established in October 2015.
She said: “The force is working hard to improve the early identification of children at risk of CSE and ensuring that person suspected of being CSE perpetrators are proactively targeted to prevent offending.”
“We have a small dedicated team who work very closely with other agencies. It is these partnerships that are key to tackling CSE.
“We work in closely with Barnardo’s and have three CSE practitioners working alongside Onyx who carry out home interviews with children who go missing from home which is often an indicator that something may be happening.
“We now have a social worker who has just started in post and we are hoping to develop the team further to incorporate a health element.
She added: “Due to the nature of CSE and the grooming process employed by the perpetrators it can often take a long time for a child to feel ready to talk about their experiences”
“It may be that a child has been groomed over the internet or they have been away from home and at risk of falling prey to the grooming process it does take time to establish the facts and gather the evidence.
“Investigating sexual offences is not easy and we have to move at a pace the victim is comfortable with.”
She said: “Child sexual exploitation affects thousands of children under the age of 18 right across the UK every year. And it is happening here in North Wales.
“Sharing concerns could be the final piece in the jigsaw and the piece we have been waiting for and which could prevent an innocent child from being abused.
“Child sexual exploitation is a key priority for North Wales Police and we are committed to understanding and dealing robustly with this serious crime.”
Anyone who has any concerns over sexual abuse or child sexual exploitation should call North Wales Police on 101