The number of reported crimes involving child sexual exploitation has risen by more than a quarter in Sussex.
Last year there were 1,027 allegations made to police, a 27% increase on the 821 recorded the year before.
West Sussex County Council’s Dr James Walsh said it was “very worrying”.
But the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, Katy Bourne, attributed the increase to better recognition and accurate recording rather than an actual increase in abuse.
She said: “I think it’s being uncovered probably more effectively now than it has ever been.”
During a meeting of the Police and Crime Panel Dr Walsh said such abuse left “lifelong scarring” on those affected, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.
Ms Bourne recalled public meetings where child abuse was “talked about in hushed terms” and the sexual exploitation of children “wasn’t something that people dealt with”.
She added: “We’re much more open about this and the more we talk about it and the more we shine lights in these dark areas the better.”
As for the increase in numbers, she told Dr Walsh: “I don’t think it’s anything to be alarmed about.
“I am reassured that I know there is a huge amount of work that Sussex Police do to tackle this particular crime.
“But, unfortunately, it’s always been there.”
One area both were keen to recognise was the need for children and young people to understand that they could talk about and report such abuse without being blamed – something which has happened in the past.
Mrs Bourne said there was now “a huge awareness” within schools and described work being carried out with Barnardo’s, YMCA Downslink and Survivors’ Network.