A police force has removed an ‘insulting’ child sexual exploitation campaign from social media after accusations of victim blaming.
North Yorkshire Police posted a series of images on social media as part of a new campaign to target child sexual exploitation.
The posts, which have been removed, included messages such as: ‘Which choice will you make? Birthday gifts or angry fists’ and ‘Which choice will you make? Happy face or abusers place?’
The images attracted widespread condemnation.
One person told North Yorkshire Police on Twitter: ‘I honestly have no words for you today [...] What in fresh hell is this insulting, victim blaming garbage? Take this down!’
Another said: ‘These aren't choices. Shameful, disgraceful and misguided campaign. It suggests victims are stupid and have a role to play in being a victim.’
Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, praised the force for removing the images but said people need to ‘listen’ to survivors.
She said on Twitter: ‘I suggest you create a focus group of survivors to guide you. They are the experts and we need to listen if we want to prevent this horrendous crime.’
North Yorkshire Police claimed the campaign was intended to be ‘hard-hitting’ but said the force did not intend to victim blame.
A force spokeswoman said: ‘For this campaign we were drawing on the experience of officers on the ground, that vulnerable people who are at a crossroads in their lives don't feel that they have any power. No person should feel they have no way out of victimisation.
‘This deliberately hard-hitting campaign was to get across the message that exploitation is not a life that anyone has to live, and that the police are there to support people who are at risk.
‘No victim of child sexual exploitation is to blame and that is not the message we set out to give in our campaign.
‘It's important to us that we listen to the public - and especially the young people we're trying to reach - so we've withdrawn the campaign on social media so we can do some more testing with our target audience.’
The NSPCC said on Tuesday: ‘Child sexual exploitation is never the fault of the victim. Very often, young people are manipulated or coerced into sexual activity by groomers who gain their trust.
‘But it is absolutely essential everyone involved in combating this horrific form of abuse works effectively to raise awareness of the problem, exposing it when it is taking place and helping to prevent children from falling victim to abusers in the first place.
‘The NSPCC's Childline service provides young people with somewhere to turn for help and advice while our Helpline is available for adults to discuss any concerns about a child who may be at risk.’