‘At least 700 women and girls’ could be victims of sexual exploitation in the North East

More than 700 women and girls have been identified as potential victims of sexual exploitation in the North East and authorities expect the figure to rise following the conviction of a high profile grooming gang.

A dedicated helpline was receiving calls within hours of the verdicts tied to Operation Shelter, which targeted a group of abusers operating in Newcastle, and investigators hope the publicity will encourage more people to come forward.

Steve

Ashman, the Chief Constable of Northumbria Police, said the largest ever trials of connected grooming gang was “certainly not the end” of the work.

“All the resources are still there and there’s plenty of work coming through from victims feeling they have the confidence and the strength to trust us,” he told The Independent.

“We’ve got to be in a position where current and historic victims have the confidence to take that courageous step.

“There may be many more victims out there and we are appealing to them to come forward.”

Canning Street in Newcastle, where grooming gang member Yassar Hussain lived (Lizzie Dearden)

Chief Constable Ashman said that women and girls will not be forced to give evidence and that the primary aim to protect victims and “help them recover from the horrific abuse they have endured”.

Northumbria Police and Newcastle City Council have set up a joint sexual exploitation hub staffed by police, social workers, health professionals, psychologists and voluntary groups.

Pat Ritchie, the council’s chief executive, said all the programmes and helplines that grew out of the grooming case would remain in place for the foreseeable future.

“We’ve gone through a number of inter-related trials but it would be naïve to think that issue is gone and that it’s not going to continue,” she told The Independent.

“We have to continue to support victims and make it clear that this sort of exploitative behaviour and awful crimes are not acceptable in our…

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