Dozens of children in Staffordshire are at risk of child sexual exploitation.
UP to 200 predators across Staffordshire are sharing images of child sex abuse online at any one time.
Staffordshire Police has revealed the shocking figure after it emerged there have been 41 sex offenders arrested in two separate operations in recent months.
Using intelligence from a variety of sources – including police forces abroad – officers have monitored suspects and then seized computers for forensic analysis.
Evidence recovered from hard drives has shown images of young people actually being abused, as opposed to simple shots of child porn.
Officers say it is part of a wider problem of child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Staffordshire, with young people also being groomed online and on the streets.
In Staffordshire County Council’s area alone, 43 youngsters are currently known to be at risk of CSE. In Stoke-on-Trent last year, there were 32 cases.
Acting assistant chief constable Jon Drake said: “Although there are hotspots in Stoke-on-Trent and Burton, there are children affected in every district in Staffordshire.”
He outlined the challenges at a meeting of the county council’s safe and strong communities select committee today.
“In Staffordshire, there’s probably about 100 to 200 people logged on at this moment in time, sharing images of child sexual abuse.
“My message is if you are sitting there doing this, you are on borrowed time.”
Mr Drake said CSE wasn’t a criminal offence in its own right.
“In terms of legislation, it can come under sex offences, drugs, abduction, ” he added.
“We have just over 70 abduction notices at the moment. It is a powerful piece of legislation and means we can arrest that person for child abduction.”
Most CSE victims are 13 to 15 year-olds and are white British girls. High risk factors include if they live in a care home and repeatedly go missing.
Police say offenders operating in gangs are more likely to be Asian males, but lone predators are ‘the full mix of society’.
Recent cases in Staffordshire include:
* A 14-year-old female who disclosed she was being groomed online. It turned out the culprit was based in the U.S.;
* Another 14-year-old girl whose behaviour was causing concern at school. It emerged she and three other girls were being groomed by a 19-year-old local male;
* A female who was sexually exploited by a network of men.
Now the police, councils and other agencies are creating the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent child sexual abuse forum to help tackle the issue.
It will focus on cases of CSE, child trafficking, missing children, female genital mutilation, honour-based violence, forced marriage and gangs.
Other work to raise awareness of how to spot the signs of CSE include offering training to taxi drivers and staff from other small businesses, including takeaways and B&Bs.
Jackie Carnell, chairman of Staffordshire Safeguarding Children Board, described it as a ‘vile form of abuse’.
Kidsgrove councillor Margaret Astle also called for more to be done.
She said: “Some children are being exploited and we are missing them.”