Lancashire Constabulary is winning the fight against child sexual abuse in Burnley - despite the emergence of new online grooming threats.
The crackdown has seen these crimes plummet by more than half in Burnley over the last three years - from 72 in 2016 to 35 in 2018 - according to police data.
This success is mainly reflected across the county but Blackpool children remain the most at risk. Police tackled 142 cases in the town last year.
Det. Sup. Ian Whitehead, head of Lancashire Police’s Public Protection Unit, said: “The public quite rightly expects us to protect children from being exploited, so tackling child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a strong priority for us, particularly as new threats emerge, such as online grooming through gaming and chat forums. However, a decrease in figures shows that our efforts and campaigns aimed at raising awareness are working, and that people feel confident that they can report and they will be listened to.
“We acknowledge that some areas of the county are more at risk of CSE and we will continue to work with our partners to protect children, prevent child abuse, help victims and target offenders, ultimately bringing them to justice. Our dedicated teams of officers are working everyday with young people who are being exploited to firstly get them to recognise that they have been or are being exploited, and to find ways of helping them to break free from the position they find themselves coerced into."
Last year, the Constabulary joined forces with Burnley Youth Theatre to fund a new play which highlights the dangers of child grooming.
In Only One in the World, actress Sophie Milne plays a 15-year-old girl, who is given drugs and alcohol before being abused by a predator. The show was toured across several schools in the county.
Karen Metcalfe, artistic director of Burnley Youth Theatre, who wrote and directed the play, said: "It's fantastic that CSE crime rates have dropped in Burnley but there is still lots of work to be done and the early intervention work needs to continue to ensure the rates continue to fall.
"I think the play has been very effective and had an impact on individual young people who have seen it and taken part in the workshop afterwards. We had a number of referrals to the CSE team during the tour and it has enabled a more open conversation about the issue within local schools.
"The arts can have a great impact on vulnerable children as it gives them a safe space to explore issues that are affecting their lives but in a way that does not expose them or make them more vulnerable. The arts can give children more confidence, build self-esteem and give them a voice when they may not normally be heard.
"The Only One in the World is a touring production so this could easily go to other areas of Lancashire and the North-West, for example, Blackpool. We would be happy to tour the show further to reach more young people."
Police are urging anyone with information about child sexual abuse to contact them immediately on 101. Alternatively, information can be reported anonymously to independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.