Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) has affected many communities across the country, from Derby to Bristol, Rotherham to Oxford. It is a serious issue which has also affected Telford.
In 2013, following Operation Chalice, we saw seven men jailed on charges of rape, sex trafficking and prostitution, involving girls as young as 13. It's right that we continue to shine a light on CSE and encourage those young people affected to come forward.
One of the most disturbing aspect of CSE is that in many cases vulnerable young girls, sometimes in care or on the fringes of care, are specifically targeted. The girls very often do not recognise themselves as victims and believe themselves to be in a relationships with the men involved.
These young people sometimes do not trust the police or social services; even if they identify themselves as having been a victim of a crime, they maybe reluctant to come forward. Reducing under-reporting of CSE incidence is a sign of progress.
The Home Office revealed in January 2016 that Telford had the highest number of reported incidents of CSE in the Country. This is likely to be due to the additional measures now in place to encourage reporting and the high profile and successful prosecutions following Operation Chalice. Awareness of CSE locally has increased.
However, in Telford as in other areas, CSE has not gone away and under reporting continues. On a night out with Telford Street Pastors last year, I could clearly see groups of men in high spec cars, circling a night club and encouraging young women and girls to get in their cars. The Street Pastors do an amazing job.
As one of the local MPs for the area, I want to know that everything is being done to prevent the occurrence of CSE and to support victims. I want to be satisfied all reports are taken seriously and young people are encouraged to come forward in ways to which they will respond.
This week, I discussed the recent Telford & Wrekin Council's Child Safeguarding Ofsted inspection report with the Director of Children's Services and the Cabinet Member. It was clear that CSE is a top priority and much good work has been done. There are many improved working practices and Ofsted acknowledges this. There is clear commitment to improvement.
In addition, a cross party scrutiny committee of the Council recently published a detailed and thorough report into CSE and made a number of recommendations to further improve practice. I welcome this report and the Council's approach to this issue.
The details that have emerged from cases across the country are horrific. CSE is still happening and we must continue to shine a light on it, wherever it happens.
There is more work to be done particularly with young people, so they can identify the risks of grooming and exploitation and understand that what they may perceive as a relationship, can quickly move to sexual exploitation.
It is right to highlight CSE as a problem. We need to keep on increasing awareness and encouraging young people to come forward. I particularly want to see victims receiving the support they need.