PSNI identifies 37 children at risk to sexual exploitation but fears it's 'tip of the iceberg'

UTV News reporter Sara O'Kane joins police on the beat as they raise awareness about the exploitation of children.

Children as young as 11 and 12 are being sexually exploited in pub, clubs and hotels across Northern Ireland.

The PSNI has identified 37 children that are at risk but fear it’s the tip of the iceberg because the crime goes unreported.

UTV News was out with the force's child exploitation team in Belfast on Sunday night as part of a police operation to raise awareness and educate staff in the night time economy about what to look out for.

It is feared that with lockdown over and hospitality reopened more children will be abused.

Police say the tactic is about prevention - but the reality is it’s already happening.

"The challenge we have is the children don’t see themselves as being exploited," Detective Chief Inspector Kerry Brennan explained.

"Adults using alcohol and drugs to gain their trust … they don’t see themselves as victims. It is just horrendous to think about."

While the PSNI don’t believe there is a network of people exploiting children at this stage, they fear it could happen and that’s why they are rolling out this campaign.

As a result of their proactive investigations and multi-agency interventions with Health and Social Care, the number of children categorised as at-risk has reduced by 33 in the last six months.

As of February 2022, there are now 37 children identified at risk.