THERE are 15 ongoing investigations into children at risk of sexual exploitation in Barnsley.

DCI Mark Wilkie said the issue of child sexual exploitation came to the fore with cases in Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford where gangs had groomed young girls for sex.

"The general view with regards to Barnsley is we do not have the same issue with this as other areas in South Yorkshire.

"We don't have a massive problem with it, however one of the things we have to be careful with is that while there may not be a visible problem, we cannot take our eyes off the ball and have to look a little deeper."

Child sexual exploitation is a form of abuse where young people are forced or manipulated into sexual activity.

The police say offenders may sometimes get the young person to engage in sexual activity by giving them attention, treats, alcohol, drugs or a place to stay.

In some cases they may even manipulate the young person into believing they're in a consensual relationship and that they love them.

It's a problem that's high on the agenda for the Barnsley force, says DCI Wilkie.

"In Barnsley we have now got a specific detective who looks at child sexual exploitation as a full-time job and that role has come from funding from Commissioner Shaun Wright's budget," he said.

"It's a crime that ruins lives and we're talking about vulnerable people here. It's usually young girls who are vulnerable to this, who find themselves in situations not of their choosing.

"They get sucked into a lifestyle that does them no good and our job is to spot the early signs of this and make interventions and focus on would-be offenders."

While there are no areas in town that are the specific focus of police attention, DCI Wilkie said there are places kids congregate where there might be an issue, such as the interchange, although there is no specific intelligence of this happening 'on a daily basis'.