Children are being lured into sexual exploitation by adults offering them drink and drugs at properties across Dundee, according to one of the region’s top cops.
Police Scotland are monitoring the situation as reports continue to cause concern in Dundee and beyond.
And in the first part of an exclusive interview with the Evening Telegraph, Superintendent Graeme Murdoch, who heads the region’s missing persons unit, said many children who go missing are often being found in circumstances where they are being exploited.
Supt Murdoch said: “We’re ever more conscious that young people who go missing can be spending time at the home of someone who offers them somewhere to go where they know they can get access to drink or drugs.
“Many of these youngsters are very vulnerable to sexual exploitation and police are definitely becoming more aware of what is happening.
“The young people can already be very vulnerable, many are missing from care facilities and are being found in places where they have gone to adults who will provide them with drink and drugs. We’re not complacent about this and once a young person has been traced we continue to work with them to ensure their safety in the future.
“With many of these there can be an element of immaturity and we work with other agencies, including the local authority, to make them aware of the risks involved. We sit down with them and listen to what has led them to be in this situation in the first place.
“We invite other agencies to get involved and work to build a rapport with the young person and provide them with the information they might need for the future.”
Keiran Watson, of charity Eighteen and Under, backed up the police view that sexual exploitation is rife across the region.
And he admitted it was almost impossible to quantify how many youngsters were being targeted, resulting in many cases going unreported and undiscovered.
Keiran said: “There are so many barriers to young people coming forward that it is almost impossible to realistically say how many are affected.
“In many ways it has become a hidden crime but it’s happening in Dundee and there are many barriers to young people reporting what’s happening.
“In some instances many young people might not even realise they are the victims of a crime.”
Keiran and his colleagues believe many of those who are going missing from home are well aware of places they can escape to.
He added: “We’re aware that many young people know places they can go, flats etc, where they know that an adult, sometimes not very much older than them, will offer to get them alcohol and/or drugs.
“This can then lead to the adult looking for sexual favours from the young person in return. Many of these young people may not even be aware they are being exploited.
“They can be in care and may believe they have found someone to love them, not realising until much later in life that they have been abused in this way.”
Keiran claims both boys and girls have been affected but that, again, it was difficult for the authorities to give numbers because of the reluctance of many to speak out.
>> Keep up to date with the latest news with Evening Telegraph newsletter
He said: “Boys in particular are less likely to discuss what is happening to them for fear of what others will say.
“I’m pleased the police have indicated they’re becoming more aware of what’s happening.”