A MAJOR investigation into the sexual exploitation of vulnerable women and girls has now been running for a month.

Northumbria Police has made 54 arrests during Operation Sanctuary and one man has been charged with rape.

Approximately 80 women and girls have been identified in Newcastrle, Gateshead and South Tyneside, and police, together with partners, are speaking to them and offering them support.

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Officers are continuing to visit businesses across the force area, such as taxi firms, hotels, B&Bs, and takeaways, to ask for people’s help and co-operation.

Northumbria Police’s Deputy Chief Constable, Steve Ashman, said: "Operation Sanctuary is progressing and we are acting on and following up all of the information that we are receiving from the public.

"We are working closely with our local communities and partner agencies to raise awareness of this important issue and encourage people to report the sexual exploitation of women and girls.

"We need the public to assist us with the investigation and I'd urge people to be vigilant and pass on any information they think could help us with our enquiries.

"Specially trained officers are continuing to work with and support the victims we have identified so far and I would like to praise their courage in coming forward and speaking to us.

"I want to reassure our communities that we are doing all we can to identify offenders and I'd ask anyone who thinks they may be a victim, regardless of how long ago the offence may have taken place, to come forward and speak to us."

Anyone with any information can call Northumbria Police on 101, extension 69191, quoting Operation Sanctuary, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Advice and support is available via Victim Support on 0845 277 0977 or Childline on 0800 1111.