NEARLY a hundred children across Hampshire are at risk of being sexually exploited, a conference has heard.

Professionals, members of the business community and school officials were told 86 females and 8 males under the age of 18 are currently at risk of sexual exploitation.

Of these children 72 have been reported as missing over the last six months.

Child sexual exploitation is a form of sexual abuse in which a young person is manipulated or forced into taking part in a sexual act often in return for affection, money, drugs or alcohol.

Those deemed “at risk” are being investigated by Hampshire Constabulary after information was received that they have been engaging in sexual activity with older people in a potential exploitative relationship.

For instance, that the child has been reported missing and has been seen with an older person, possibly a boyfriend acting abusively.

Figures showed of all the places across the county, Southampton and Portsmouth had the highest rates with most cases of exploitation being carried out by family members and friends.

The Sparsholt College conference was hosted by Crimestoppers who have partnered with Hampshire Constabulary, Barnardos and Fearless to raise awareness on the issue.

DCI Becky Riggs, of Hampshire Constabulary, said: “My key message I'd like to get out to you today is I know very much that you have a lot of information around these areas and I would very much appreciate it if that information was shared with us.

“It's important that we, as an agency, have that information so we can act on it and protect children and younger people around Hampshire and the Isle of Wight are kept safe.”

Audience members were told how in organised settings young people are often passed through networks where they are forced into sexual activity with a number of people though the victim might think they are acting in accordance with the will of their newly-found friends having been isolated from their family.

Some of the 94 children being investigated are helping police in ongoing investigations to prevent further children being abused.

It was made clear these children are not necessarily from underprivileged backgrounds and there are an increasing number of children, as young as eight, targeted from ordinary families.

Sarah Bott, of Barnados, said: “The youngest person I have worked with was eight-years-old who was persuaded into taking part in a video. This isn't just happening to teenagers, it's happening to such young people.

“A child is a child until the age of 18 and anyone working with someone at that age, in whatever capacity, has an obligation to help them.”

Deputy chairman for Crimstoppers, Simon Theobalds, said: “Over 20 years ago we got an arrest after maybe 100 calls. Now we're getting an arrest after just six. It's all about how the public deal with the information provided to them. Hampshire now regards [Crimestoppers] as one of the most important sources for issuing information to the public.”