MORE than 150 children in this area are at risk of sexual exploitation.
That is the stark message from Hampshire police on a national day of awareness about child sexual exploitation.
Detective Chief Inspector Becky Riggs said people should not be alarmed at the figure – which relates to Hampshire and the Isle of Wight – as it shows police are safeguarding children.
She said: ‘These are young people under the age of 18 who have come to the attention of the authorities and who are receiving ongoing support from us to keep them away from harm.
‘I ask parents and other concerned adults not to be alarmed by this figure because it reflects the work we’re doing to identify and safeguard children.
‘There is nothing to suggest there is an increased risk of child sexual exploitation in our communities and nothing that should cause you to change the way you go about your day-to-day life.’
Exploitation can happen behind closed doors and online, police have warned.
Ms Riggs added: ‘Child sexual exploitation is a broad term that relates to the grooming and abuse of children for sexual activity.
‘It can happen online as well on the streets or behind closed doors, between adults and children as well as among peers, within families or between friends or strangers.
‘What it frequently involves is the child coming to believe that they are in a loving and caring relationship, consenting to sex, when in fact they are being exploited because they are vulnerable.’
Police work with other agencies, including local safeguarding boards and charities, to tackle the problem.
Detectives have put together a comprehensive profile to identify youngsters at risk, suspects and locations.
That information is routinely shared with safeguarding professionals to make sure children are helped.
It comes as the NWG Network is calling for people to recognise signs of abuse.
Ms Rigg added: ‘You can help us by letting us know about children you believe may be at risk.
‘If you have concerns about an adult forming an inappropriate relationship with a child, please tell us.
‘Likewise, if you have information about places and locations where you suspect children are being groomed, please talk to us.
‘The more we know about it, the more we can do about it.’
Police have recently run an internal campaign to raise awareness and now monitor children who regularly go missing or involved in low-level offending.
Call police on 101 or 999 in an emergency.