Council leader implores businesses to help protect Redbridge children from sexual exploitation

A report released by Barnardos in March showed child sexual exploitation (CSE) affects children rega

A report released by Barnardos in March showed child sexual exploitation (CSE) affects children regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, faith, disability, background or upbringing. Photo: Dan Hodges/Barnardos - Credit: Dan Hodges/Barnardos

A passionate appeal has been made for businesses to be the “eyes and ears” against sexual exploitation of children after just three signed a pledge to help stamp it out in Redbridge.

Statistics obtained by the Recorder revealed 118 girls and 20 boys had been identified as potential victims of child sexual exploitation (CSE) since June 2013.

Figures also showed eight girls under 13 and 10 boys under 11 had been exploited in the borough after being trafficked.

Council leader Cllr Jas Athwal said: “We need to stamp this out. It could be anybody, my child or your child.”

In February last year, Operation Makesafe was launched, with 300 letters sent to hotels, guest houses and taxi companies to be the extra pair of “eyes and ears” in detecting CSE.

Tanweer Khan, chairman of the People’s Anti-Grooming and Abuse League (PAGAL), said the disappointing response was predictable following child abuse scandals in Rotherham and Rochdale, linked to specific communities.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “They feel if you approach the subject you are demonising the community.”

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“Stranger danger is pretty rare. One in four girls get abused before they reach the age of 18 and 90 per cent of the time it is from a person within their own circle of trust.”

Confirming this, a spokeswoman for the NSPCC said: “Child sexual exploitation is a hidden crime. Young people are often tricked into believing they are in a loving, committed relationship with their abuser.

“This makes spotting the signs difficult, and some signs may be mistaken for ‘normal’ teenage behaviour.”

Cllr Athwal added: “People need to understand it is their moral obligation. It is not one community, it’s the whole community of Redbridge. It is about protecting the vulnerable.

“Communities need to wake up to that message.”

Redbridge Chamber of Commerce chairman Geoff Hill said he was not aware of the operation. “[The council] has not asked us to publicise it or put it on our website,” he said.

To report suspicious activity, call 101 quoting Operation Makesafe.