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Saturday, 27 February 2021

Campaign urges vigilance for signs of child exploitation under lockdown

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Look Closer Awareness Week

Look Closer Awareness Week launches on Monday (8 February 2021). The campaign from The Children’s Society is supported by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and police forces across the country including British Transport Police.

The campaign is to raise awareness of child exploitation and urges the public and people still going out work to keep a particular eye out for children who may be at risk in public spaces, which continue to be in use during lockdown.

These spaces include parks, supermarkets, takeaways and banks, as well as in taxis and on trains. All places where it may be easier for criminals to groom and transport children and exploit them into illegal activity in plain sight.

The charity says exploited children and young people may not always appear vulnerable or act the way we expect victims to behave, possibly displaying angry or aggressive behaviour which can be a sign of trauma.

James Simmonds-Read, national programme manager at The Children’s Society’s Prevention Programme, said:

“Criminals have adapted their methods to continue exploiting children under lockdown at a time when they may be feeling lonely, worried about family finances and have little respite from challenges or dangers at home.

“Children may be particularly vulnerable to offers of cash, gifts, food, friendship and status by perpetrators right now – but this grooming later turns into coercion as criminals deploy terrifying threats and violence to ensure compliance with their demands.

“Under lockdown, these young people and the risks they face are often less visible to professionals like teachers and social workers.

“That’s why we are encouraging everyone who sees children in their daily lives to look out for signs of exploitation and report any concerns to police so these young people can be identified and offered the help they desperately need.

“Places like parks, supermarkets, banks, as well as taxis and public transport, are still in use under lockdown and may be used in the grooming and exploitation of children. We have heard examples of young people being targeted in parks for instance and of supermarket car parks being used to carry out drug deals – with the illicit proceeds then paid into perpetrators bank accounts at nearby branches or online.”

Safer Internet Day

The Children’s Society’s experts say the internet is also a public space, and ahead of Safer Internet Day on Tuesday, 9 February, it is encouraging everyone to look out for signs of exploitation when they are online after evidence of an upsurge in online grooming during the first lockdown.

It also wants parents and carers to be alert for risks to their children, including when they are using social media and chat functions in online games.

James Simmonds-Read said:

“We also want the wider public, as well as parents and carers, to be vigilant for signs of grooming through online platforms like gaming and social media.

“The internet is also a public space and risks of grooming have increased over the last year as children are spending more time indoors and on devices.”

Anyone with concerns that a child may be being groomed and exploited can report any concerns to the police on 101. Dial 999 if there is an immediate risk to a child.

If you want to remain completely anonymous, you can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers online or call the helpline on 0800 555111. If on a train you can text British Transport Police on 61016.

If you’re a parent or carer looking for advice, or a professional in need of information and guidance you can call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000.

For more information visit www.childrenssociety.org.uk/lookcloser.

John Guinn
I am the editor of The Flitwick Chronicle. This is an independent, local news service based in Bedfordshire. The Chronicle provides local news that is investigative, inclusive and relevant to the residents of Flitwick.

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