As part of Child Exploitation Awareness Day today (18/03), we are focusing on our work with partners to highlight the dangers and signs linked to Child Exploitation (CE) and Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE).
The Children's Society, Swindon Borough Council and Wiltshire Council are working with us to encourage everyone to consider how we can all think, stop, and speak out against exploitation and abuse.
Detective Inspector Mark Kent, Wiltshire Police lead on CSE, said: "Sexual exploitation is a form of child abuse. It doesn’t always involve physical contact and can occur through the use of technology such as phones and the internet.
"Sexual activity may appear consensual and children are often unable to recognise that they are being exploited.
"Often it starts with providing children with something appealing, whether material, such as money, food, housing or drugs and alcohol; or emotional, such as a sense of belonging and feeling wanted or loved.
"Over time however these children are controlled through threats and physical and sexual violence.
"Working with our partners, we are determined to highlight and tackle the signs of CSE. The more people are aware of it, the easier it is for more people to spot the signs which will hopefully lead to more children being protected."
In Wiltshire, council staff and our officers make up a multi-agency group called the Emerald Team which delivers direct interventions with children and their families to reduce the risks of Child Sexual Exploitation and other types of exploitation such as criminal exploitation and county lines.
The work of the Emerald Team is building on ‘contextual safeguarding’ on how people address concerns for young people when they are vulnerable to harm coming from outside of their home and family.
Cllr Pauline Church, Cabinet Member for Children, Education and Skills said: “We all have a part to play in keeping our young people safe. This is a hugely important new way of working which is bringing in our schools, our shops and all our communities to look out for the signs and speak out so we keep our children and young people safe and prevent exploitation.”
A similar multi-agency group called the Opal Team operates in Swindon.
Wiltshire Police and The Children's Society will be delivering training for hotels and B&Bs, making staff and proprietors aware of the signs which could lead to child exploitation - the aim of the training is to protect those most vulnerable from becoming victims.
Training scheduled for this week has been postponed, due to the coronavirus situation, however, video training sessions are to be arranged with hotels and B&Bs very soon.
Det Supt Ben Mant said: "We are concerned that Hotels and B&Bs can be used by criminals to sexually abuse and criminally exploit children, and so we want to work with managers of these businesses to help us prevent this.
"Operation Makesafe focuses on training people to spot the signs of child exploitation, be it criminal and/or sexual, and report it to the police.
"Spotting signs of child abuse is everyone's responsibility and that includes those working in the service industry.
" Receptionists, managers and housekeepers are in a unique position to notice when someone or something seems suspicious and pick up when something is not right which is why a day like today is so important."
Police and Crime Commissioner, Angus Macpherson, said: "This is a good example of how a joined up approach between the police and partner agencies can work to fight against child exploitation.
"The work with hotels, local authorities and police taps in to the expertise of those involved in the service industry, as well as the staff and officers in the councils and police; helping to keep watch on places where it's believed such abusive crimes are being committed.
“However, there is a wider message here - we all need to be the eyes and ears of the police as it is our responsibility as active citizens to raise any concerns we might have about a child we think might be suffering such abuse.
"Today's Child Exploitation Awareness Day not only helps raise such awareness but also offers an active, on-going solution to what is an abhorrent crime."
James Simmonds-Read, Service Manager for The Children’s Society’s Prevention programme, said: “Across the country children are being groomed with drugs and alcohol and promises of friendship, love or money, then controlled using terrifying threats, violence and sexual abuse, which is hugely traumatic.
“Hotels and guest houses may be used by criminals as part of this exploitation, for instance, to coerce children to hold and distribute drugs, or to sexually abuse them.
“However, children may not report what is happening, either because they may not see themselves as victims due to the grooming and manipulation they have been through or because they are too afraid.
“That’s why it’s vital that everyone understands the signs of exploitation and what to do if they have concerns about a child – and staff who work in the service industry, including hotels and guest houses, can be a vital ally in this and in preventing and disrupting exploitation.”
If people are concerned that a child is at immediate risk of CSE they should ring Wiltshire Police on 999.
If the child is not at immediate risk but people still have concerns and have some details about the child, such as their name or address and they live in the Borough of Swindon, they should contact Swindon Borough Council during office hours (8.30am to 4.40pm Monday to Thursday, and 8.30am to 4.00pm Friday) on 01793 466903 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
If the child is not at immediate risk but people still have concerns and have some details about the child, such as their name or address and they live in Wiltshire and not in the Borough of Swindon, they should call the Wiltshire Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) on 0300 456 0108
Otherwise people should call Wiltshire Police’s non-emergency line on 101 to report their concerns about possible sexual exploitation.