BETTER protection of vulnerable children at risk of sexual exploitation is being provided thanks to a Barnsley team that’s been set up to mirror neighbouring Rotherham’s successes in stamping out the crime.

Police bosses have used the Rotherham abuse scandal set-up as a model in Barnsley after projections showed cases have jumped in recent years.

The Chronicle can reveal that 64 per cent of cases involve girls - although 73 per cent of identified suspects were male - while the average victims being just 13 years of age.

Child exploitation - a term when a child or young person is groomed by criminals - being given things like money, presents, drugs or alcohol, affection or perceived status.

These things are given as a manipulation tactic to convince them to do something for their abuser or their abuser’s associates.

A report said: “The expansion and uplift of resources to create additional child exploitation teams in Barnsley and Doncaster has provided greater capacity to ensure a consistent service is provided to protect children.

“The new teams have been developed based around the HMICFRS-commended Rotherham partnership model and have been driving engagement and awareness with regard to the risk of child exploitation.

“Staff within the new teams have been developing the local and regional understanding, which intelligence will create a better understanding of the risk posed by child sexual exploitation.

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“The force has observed an increase in cyber-enabled offending.

“In line with the national picture, internet use as an offending method now accounts for over 60 per cent of all reported offences.

“Due to the nature of this type of offending, which could be committed from anywhere in the world, more intelligence is required to assist in developing the police tactical response.

“Further training and awareness sessions are being developed for professionals and the public around online safety and young people.”

A total of 60 per cent of recent years’ offences had an online element, force bosses believe, with 67 per cent of cases involving females with an average age of 13.

South Yorkshire Police officers are now working alongside the council and schools.

A statement added: “There is no ‘typical victim’ when it comes to child exploitation - any child could be at risk of being targeted by criminals.

“However, children with vulnerabilities such as learning difficulties, those who are neglected and children who are regularly missing from home are at greater risk of being exploited.

“There is also not a ‘typical offender’ - offences are committed by men and women of all ages and backgrounds.

“Since the Covid-19 pandemic, online grooming has significantly increased, with criminals approaching children through social media or online gaming.

“We have a dedicated exploitation team in each of our four districts - Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham, and Sheffield - and officers in these teams are specialists in supporting victims and investigating such crimes.

“We also work with partners such as local councils, support agencies and charities to ensure we continue to develop our knowledge, identify vulnerable children, and offer the best possible support to those affected.

“This remains an issue here and across the country.

“Exploitation of children, in all of its forms, is absolutely abhorrent, and tackling it continues to be a high priority for South Yorkshire Police.”