Organisations in Somerset are encouraging everyone to learn about the signs of child exploitation and help stop abuse ahead of National Child Exploitation Awareness Day on the 18th March 2023.
The day aims to highlight the issues surrounding child exploitation, encouraging people to think, spot, and speak out against abuse, and adopt a zero-tolerance attitude to adults developing inappropriate relationships with children, or children exploiting and abusing their peers.
Child exploitation is abuse that involves the manipulation and/or coercion of young people under the age of 18 into sexual activity, forced labour, money laundering , transporting drugs (known as county lines) or stealing.
People can help by recognising signs that a young person may be being exploited.
Signs can include:
- Children missing from home or education – not knowing where a child is or who they are with
- Discovering a child has been going to new places with no obvious connections
- Children spending more time online and distancing themselves from family, friends and usual activities
- Any child with unexplained bruises, cuts, burns, marks and a reluctance to seek medical attention
- Children who have increased alcohol use, drug use or self-harm
- Children with unexplained items in their possession, such as new clothing, money, phones or drugs
- Sudden changes in who a child spends time with
- Unusually secretive, fearful, withdrawn or aggressive behaviour
- Changes in clothing personal hygiene and vocabulary
Somerset County Council has joined forces with its partners, Avon and Somerset Police and the NHS, to take part in community action days to raise awareness of the signs of exploitation with the public, community groups and local businesses ahead of this year’s Awareness Day on 18 March.
People are asked to join the #HelpingHands campaign by writing a pledge on their hands, taking a photo, and posting to social media using the hashtags #EndCSEin23 and #HelpingHands on 18th March.
Cllr Tessa Munt, Somerset County Council’s Executive Member for Children and Families said: “I am absolutely committed to protecting children and ensuring perpetrators are brought to justice.
“We all have a duty to think, spot, and speak out against abuse. Everyone can do their bit, however small, to make sure that it’s never easy for people to exploit children. By taking part in the #HelpingHands campaign, you can raise awareness of what to look out for, and you could potentially change someone’s life. You are empowering victims to come forward and sending out a strong message to perpetrators that abuse in any form will not be tolerated.”
An NHS spokesperson said: “Abuse can cause serious physical and emotional harm to children both in the short term and the long term.”
Detective Chief Inspector Jess Aston from Avon and Somerset Police said:
“Child exploitation is against the law. It can take many forms, from child sex offences, children being coerced in to committing criminal acts or modern slavery.
Perpetrators target children and young people, often targeting areas such as shopping centres, parks, or fast-food outlets, as well as grooming through social media and online gaming platforms. Vulnerable children, either through poverty, family or school troubles are most at risk, but the reality is it can happen to any child.
Research shows that there is no one type of abuser. Perpetrators of child exploitation can be male or female, come from any ethnic background and be any age. They may have a low social or economic status or they could be a wealthy individual in a position of authority.
Whatever the circumstance, if you notice suspicious activity or you are worried that someone you know may be being exploited or taken advantage of, always report it. Having descriptions of people involved, times, and locations can help police track down perpetrators.”
If you suspect a child or young person is being abused, report it. In an emergency, always contact the police on 999. You can also contact the Police directly by dialling 101.
You can contact Children’s Services on 0300 123 2224 and email at [email protected]
If you are on a train and notice something suspicious you can contact the British Transport Police on 61016
Call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111 or visit the websites below.