Lancashire's youngsters are as much at risk of sexual exploitation as those trafficked from abroad
As National Child Sexual Exploitation awareness day gets underway today, the Post looks at how close to home the issue is.
While terms such as 'trafficking' and 'sexual exploitation' connote women and girls lured to the UK from overseas, the recent prosecution of a middle aged Preston nightclub promoter and his friend for offences against girls and women highlights children in the UK are just as much at risk.
More than a quarter of all victims of trafficking last year were British.
Office for National Statistics data shows that Lancashire Constabulary recorded 2,205 child sexual abuse crimes in 2019-20, of which 716 were cases of sexual exploitation against children.Trafficking involves a person moved from one place to another - whether country to country or town to town - to be exploited.
Child sexual exploitation (CSE) involves situations in which a person under 18 is given something, from food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes to 'affection', gifts or money, in return for performing sexual activities.
It takes many forms, from a seemingly 'consensual' relationship with an older boyfriend, to a young person having sex in return for attention, gifts, alcohol or cigarettes.
Although a young person may not realise they are at risk, and believe they are consenting to the behaviour, sexual exploitation is child abuse, and puts the young victim at huge risk of physical, emotional and psychological damage.
Many of these disturbing hallmarks formed the backbone of a recent trial at Preston Crown Court, in which club DJ Amos O'Cheng, 51, of Winckley Square, Preston, was found guilty of three counts of facilitating the travel of someone for exploitation, three of raping girls, two of raping a woman, and four of supplying drugs to them.
He will be sentenced on April 16 alongside his co-defendant, Dickson Ngaunde, 37, of Stanford Avenue, Brighton, Sussex, who was convicted of raping a woman.
Qualified teacher, youth worker and CSE trainer, Karen Livesey, who works for C.A.T. – Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Training - says: "Often signs and indicators of abuse go unnoticed as adult perpetrators target and groom their victims.
"Child sexual exploitation can take place on the street, at parties, with peers, through gangs and through inappropriate relationships with adults.
"It can be opportunistic or complex and exist right in front of your eyes
"Human trafficking includes the transportation or movement of a victim with the intent to exploit, whether from one city to another or from one bedroom to another. This is abuse. This could be happening near you."
O'Cheng, who used the pseudonyms Max and Tyrese, rented various cars in London and used them to drive girls around, including to his Preston flat where he would have sex with them - often after spiking their drinks.
Ngaunde came to Preston from East Sussex to stay at O'Cheng's flat and do work for him.
One one occasion O'Cheng and Ngaunde picked up a teenager from a nightclub in Eastbourne, east Sussex and drove 300 miles to Preston - though Ngaunde said he was asleep throughout and only realised she was in the car 40 minutes from Preston.
Two of O'Cheng's victims were youngsters in care.
He failed to tell his victims his true age and the fact he was HIV positive - though treatment has meant he cannot pass on the virus through sexual contact.
He was described in court as a cocaine user who has had multiple relationships with multiple girls and young women.
O'Cheng tried to argue he drove the girls around as a 'favour' to the girls, for no sinister motive whatsoever, and tried to make out the young women were using him.
His defence suggested some of the girls were manipulative, street wise drug users who were the ones in control.
But the prosecution argued O'Cheng let the young women think they were calling the shots because that's how he got what he wanted from them.
The court heard when one girl asked him for cocaine he replied: " Get naked."
On another occasion, within 15 minutes of meeting a 15-year-old friend of one of his victims, he had saved the child's details in his phone and texted: " Love you can I see you soon baby?"
Summing up the evidence to the jury, Judge Philip Parry told them to bear in mind "where the balance of power truly is" , particularly in relation to two of the girls, adding: "Whatever you thought of them, however cocky they were, they were children - one had just turned 14 and the other was 16."
One one occasion in November 2019, O'Cheng had sex with both girls on the same evening.
He drove to Manchester to pick up the 16-year-old girl from her care home and bring her back to his Preston flat as she wanted to get ready to go out in Blackpool.
They had alcohol which made her start to feel "dizzy and weird" - the prosecution say he spiked her - before he raped her. She woke up in his bed and later found videos on his phone of herself naked in his bed.
Later O'Cheng drove her to pick a 14-year-old friend up from another care home near Preston, before driving them to Blackpool. The 14-year-old stayed in his car and came back to Preston with him. They drank alcohol at his flat before having sex.
Later in the evening the youngster, by then vomiting and acting strangely, called care home staff from a caravan park - care staff were so concerned they took her to hospital.
O'Cheng was eventually arrested in a vehicle near Topps Tiles in Preston, with two girls aged 15 and 16 in the car.
Karen, from Preston, adds: " Perpetrators are very clever and will deliberately create a false impression of normality or deceive the people who are the main protectors for the children and young people in their care.
" All children can be vulnerable to sexual exploitation regardless of age, ability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or gender.
"A serious cause for concern is the alarming increase of online grooming and abuse that has doubled in the past year as perpetrators access children and young people who use the internet for schoolwork, leisure and connecting with family and friends.
"The Internet Watch Foundation stated there are 300,000 adults who pose a sexual threat to young people online."
Lancashire Police says it will continue to target, warn and prosecute offenders. The police are one of several agencies working together across Lancashire sharing information and working together to help victims escape the cycle of abuse.
A dedicated page on its website says: " Offenders come from many different social and ethnic backgrounds but they all have one thing in common. They are abusing young people and are using their status or position to exploit vulnerable victims."
National Child Exploitation Awareness Day aims to highlight the issues around CSE and encourage people to think, spot and speak out against abuse.
*If you suspect a person of carrying out child sexual exploitation, or think someone you know has been a victim, or may be, call 101.
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