Letters to the Editor: Help spot child exploitation in Merseyside

Dear Editor,

Thousands of children and young people are subjected to horrific exploitation and abuse across the UK every year.

Predators groom children in person and online, then exploit them for sex or use terrifying threats and violence to force them into crimes such as money laundering or carrying drugs in ‘county lines’ operations. Some are forced to work in premises like car washes and nail bars, or to beg.

Any child in any community, including boys, girls and trans and non-binary children can be targeted for all types of exploitation.

In Merseyside in 2020/21, child sexual exploitation was identified as a risk in 308 assessments of children referred to social services, while children going missing, which can also be a sign of young people being coerced into crime, was a factor in 427 instances. Gang involvement was highlighted in 401 assessments, and in 56 instances trafficking was deemed to be a factor – both are indicators of exploitation.

However, many children are too scared to tell adults what is happening or may not trust the services that are meant to protect them. That’s why during the week of Monday 3 October, The Children’s Society is running a ‘Look Closer’ Awareness Week.

The Children’s Society’s #Look Closer campaign , which is supported by the National Police Chiefs Council and forces including the British Transport Police, urges not only professionals and parents, but also the public and businesses to be vigilant for signs of child exploitation and abuse and report any concerns. Everyone, from commuters, and online gamers, to shoppers and people working in public-facing roles, such as transport, shop and hotel staff, can play their part.

This winter, the cost of living crisis and financial pressures facing families may leave some children particularly vulnerable to grooming by perpetrators who offer them cash, food and gifts. Young victims may also be targeted with offers of drugs, friendship, love, status and even gaming credits.

Signs of exploitation could include children having large amounts of cash or unexplained gifts; appearing under the control of others; looking lost; or travelling alone at night. Children may seem upset, anxious or scared, but trauma can also make them appear angry or aggressive.

Anyone worried about a child should call police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111. If there is an immediate risk to a child dial 999. If you are on a train text British Transport Police on 61016. Further advice is available from the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800500.

It’s better to report a concern that proves unfounded than to miss the chance to help a child escape horrific abuse while also giving police the chance to bring those exploiting them to justice.

Mark Russell
Chief Executive The Children’s Society

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