Health chiefs have shone the spotlight on sexual exploitation in a bid to raise awareness of the hidden problem.
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, together with partners, held a safeguarding conference to explore all aspects of sexual exploitation, abuse, trafficking and modern day slavery.
It has a specialist safeguarding team which supports staff working in the community and hospitals across Northumberland and North Tyneside to spot the signs of exploitation, with the aim of supporting patients and preventing further instances.
Jane Smyth, professional and operational lead for safeguarding adults and children at the trust, said: “Exploitation of any form is a horrendous crime and destroys lives and families. Anyone could be a victim.
“It is sad to say but many vulnerable members of society are especially at risk of exploitation.
“We feel it is so important to shine the spotlight on this area, hear victims’ stories and provide professionals with the information they need to spot the signs and do all they can to prevent instances of abuse.”
More than 300 people from organisations across the North East attended the conference and speakers included a victim of male sexual exploitation and Northumbria Police.
Superintendent Steve Barron, of Northumbria Police, said: “Raising awareness is always key in tackling crime, and exploitation is a prime example.
“By highlighting the dangers and educating people on prevention and where to get support, we can ensure we’re policing the issue from all possible angles.
“We have dedicated specialist officers who work within our safeguarding department who target suspects and engage with victims to provide full support throughout the investigation process.
“It is important we highlight that anyone can be a victim of exploitation and hopefully by raising awareness we can significantly reduce offences.”