23 arrests for street grooming as girls preyed upon for sex
POLICE have investigated more than 130 cases of children falling victim to sexual exploitation across Staffordshire in the past 12 months.
Twenty-three people have been arrested for street grooming by Staffordshire Police and prosecutions are expected.
Parks, takeaways and taxi ranks in Stoke-on-Trent are being used as regular meeting points. Offenders then shower teenage girls with food, affection and other gifts in return for sexual favours.
Details of the problem have emerged just days after nine men who ran a sex exploitation ring in Greater Manchester were jailed for systematically targeting girls.
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Now a new Staffordshire County Council report has found young people in the county and Stoke-on-Trent are also vulnerable to trafficking.
Most victims are thought to be 13 to 15-year-old girls and many are living in care or regularly running away from home.
Detective Chief Inspector Tim Martin, who oversees child exploitation investigations, said: "Children might end up going missing for a variety of reasons, including family problems, education, or substance misuse. We are developing more of a picture all the time.
"Children carry phones that are more like computers. Some of the exploitation has been through the internet."
Pimp Clive Brown was last year jailed for 10 months at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court after admitting two charges of causing prostitution for gain.
In one case, he persuaded a 15-year-old girl to have sex with up to six men after selling her services on the internet. The girl had gone missing from a children's home when Brown befriended the youngster and gave her a Hanley flat and a mobile phone.
Men would then visit a flat in Linden Court over six days and pay her £110-a-time for sex acts with Brown pocketing £70.
Police later raided the flat after being tipped off by residents.
The 38-year-old, of Linfield Road, Hanley, repeated the same crime with an 18-year-old girl who he also offered for sex on the internet.
In their report, county councillors have called for reassurances that judges and magistrates are not sentencing offenders too leniently. They have also recommended strengthening support for victims, who might have to wait months for witness statements to be obtained and then relive their terrifying experience in court.
And the councillors say they have 'serious concerns' over the lack of information passed on to councils and the police when independent care homes open up on their patch.
At the moment, these homes only have to be registered with Ofsted. Local authorities may only become aware of children in care who are living locally if the youngsters are reported missing.
Councillor Mike Lawrence, Staffordshire's cabinet member for children's wellbeing, said: "Information is vital. The more the council and other agencies know of children and young people in care within the county, the more we can do to help them."