Avon and Somerset wide campaign launched to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation

Added: 07 September 2016

Child sexual exploitation is happening.

That’s the message police, councils and other partners across Avon and Somerset want to spread far and wide as part of a new campaign to raise awareness of sexual exploitation – a devastating form of abuse affecting children and young people.

A series of adverts funded by Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens have been launched in two major train stations – Bristol Temple Meads and Bath Spa - and across Somerset in local supermarkets, with digital advertising also being used to reach people in the force area.

Ms Mountstevens said: “Let’s be clear, child sexual exploitation is happening. Any child can be targeted and those who are can experience deep psychological and emotional damage. This campaign aims to help us become better at identifying the children who are being exploited and give them the support they need to cope and recover from their experience. 

“Safeguarding our young people is everyone’s business and together we can prevent child sexual exploitation from happening. We need to be the ones who ask, ask again and keep asking so we can stop it when it happens, help victims to recover and hold abusers to account. Working together we can tackle CSE, support our vulnerable children and allow them to live free from exploitation.”

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is the exchange of something the young person may need or want, such as food, alcohol, affection or gifts, for sexual activity with an abuser. This crime can affect any child - boys or girls - anytime, anywhere, regardless of their social or ethnic background. It’s never the child’s fault - abusers will first groom a victim, often online, in order to gain control under the guise of ‘romance’ or ‘friendship’ before exploiting them, using threats, blackmail and violence to trap victims into a cycle of abuse.

We have listened to and heard the voices of young people who shared their experiences of sexual exploitation as part of the Operation Brooke serious case review. Their message was clear – professionals, parents and carers need to be aware of the signs and take action to help victims.

Since the review was published, police have been working closely with partners across health and education to develop the campaign and reach professionals whose job means they come into contact with children on a regular basis. This work will see the roll out of new awareness materials in GP surgeries, hospitals, police stations and schools. In this second phase, the campaign looks to target communities across Avon and Somerset.

South West Regional Lead for Child Sexual Exploitation, Temporary Detective Inspector Larisa Hunt, said: “This campaign aims to make people aware that child sexual exploitation is happening here and now in our communities.

“We’ve chosen to place adverts in locations where lots of people will see this powerful message because being aware of this crime is the first step towards spotting and stopping it.

“Abuse and exploitation of children is not a comfortable topic to talk about but it’s vital we have conversations and ask, ask again and keep asking to ensure any child or young person experiencing this crime gets the help and support they need. 

“Safeguarding children is a top priority at Avon and Somerset Police and we must all take responsibility as a society to learn about this issue and tackle it together.” 

Police and partners are also using digital channels to reach the public with information about child sexual exploitation, with a particular focus on giving parents and carers advice about keeping children safe online.

Abusers will often target, groom, and sometimes exploit, children and young people using social media and online games. Tips on internet safety for parents with children of all ages is being shared by the police on Facebook and Twitter over the coming months. 

Warning signs of child sexual exploitation include:

Over time, grooming changes the way a child behaves. The problem is that these changes can look like typical ‘teenage behaviour’. Pace (Parents Against Child Exploitation) suggests getting advice if you identify three or more of the following warning signs:

  • Becomes especially secretive; stops seeing their usual friends; has really sharp, severe mood swings
  • Develops relationships with older ‘friends’ – men or women (although not all perpetrators are older)
  • Goes missing from home and is reluctant to say where they have been or what they have been doing. Stays out all night
  • Uses their mobile phone very secretively. Receives calls and messages from outside their normal circle of friends
  • Has new, expensive items that they couldn't afford, such as mobile phones, clothes or jewellery - as well as 'invisible' or 'virtual' gifts such as phone credit and online gaming credits
  • Suddenly changes their taste in dress or music
  • Looks tired or unwell and sleeps at unusual hours
  • Has marks or scars on their body, which they try to hide

Reporting Child Sexual Exploitation:

If you suspect a child or young person may be at risk, or have any information relating to child sexual exploitation, please do not wait to act on your concerns or be worried about telling someone - you will be listened to and taken seriously.

Contact police by calling 101 or visit a local police station. You can complete a secure online reporting form at www.avonandsomerset.police.uk

If you know or suspect a child or young person is in immediate danger, you should dial 999 straight away.

For details of a number of support helplines and more information about the campaign and the signs of child sexual exploitation www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/cse