AN online multi-agency campaign got under way today to make young people in the Bradford district aware of the risks from paedophiles hiding behind chat forums and interactive platforms.
It forms part of the ongoing initiative, ‘Know the Signs,’ which aims to highlight the issues of child sexual exploitation and encourage victims to report it.
Police, local authorities and children's safeguarding boards have joined up across West Yorkshire to produce a series of messages highlighting the dangers.
Web, Facebook and Twitter posts will be released which feature an image of two teenagers in an online conversation. The graphic then reveals that one of them is actually a sexual predator and not the person they are purporting to be.
West Yorkshire Assistant Chief Constable, Geoff Dodd, said it was vital to educate young people.
“Chat forums and interactive platforms present risks which make young people susceptible to this type of crime.
“Some engage with strangers online, not knowing who they are talking to, their age or their intentions. Sexual predators use online forums to groom their victims and it is imperative that our young people understand these dangers.
"Often offenders use false accounts, fake photos, and names to deceive their victims, encouraging them to meet with the intention of committing a sexual offence."
The warning messages will be posted across police websites and social media will direct users to an online page, www.westyorkshire.police.uk/who-r-u-talking-2, featuring key information and advice. The graphics will be displayed on electronic screens at shopping centres, and police officers will bring the messages to the attention of young people in towns and cities.
ACC Dodd added: “We have intentionally launched this campaign during the school holidays, as many will undoubtedly be spending a lot of time on social media, apps and other conversation mediums."
He urged parents to take an interest in what their children were doing online and who they were speaking to.
Bradford councillor Ralph Berry, executive member for children and young people's services at Bradford Council, said Bradford, like other places, had seen paedophiles trying to bully and manipulate girls and boys and every single child in every school needed to be made aware of the online dangers and how to protect themselves.
He said: "There is a real concern, from surveys with young people, about social media. A steady stream of men have been identified, using false identities on social media and extorting young women.
"This is a really important campaign. People feel unreasonably safe in some of these social chatrooms - they are not safe."
West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, who is supporting the campaign, said it would give young people the tools to make informed decisions and identify the tell-tale signs.
He added: “We must help young people to realise the hidden dangers of online interactive platforms and the potential connections with child sexual exploitation."
Victims of child sexual exploitation, anyone who knows a victim, or has information about those involved in the crime, should contact police on 101, or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.