Residents are being urged to familiarise themselves with the typical signs of child sexual exploitation (CSE) and report anything suspicious about it they may see.
The joint call from Swindon Borough Council, Wiltshire Council, Wiltshire Police, the local health sector and other partners is being made in the lead up to the NWG Network charity’s National Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day (Friday 18 March).
People can support the day’s #HelpingHands social media drive by posting pictures online with the hashtag written on their hands.
CSE is abuse when children and young people – both boys and girls – are sexually exploited for something, such as food, accommodation, cigarettes, drugs, affection, gifts or money, by one or a number of people.
Any child or young person, whether they are male or female, regardless of social background, ethnicity, religion or circumstance, could be a CSE victim.
The Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards (LSCBs) for Swindon and Wiltshire, which are independently chaired, comprise representatives from local councils, the police, the health sector and other agencies.
They recognise the importance of joint-working and see protecting children from abuse as a priority. The public can play a vital role in helping do this by being the eyes and ears of the community and reporting any concerns they may have.
A website, www.saysomethingswindon.co.uk, was recently launched by Swindon Borough Council to inform visitors about CSE. It contains fictional videos about CSE and information about typical signs of the crime, along with contact details to report anything suspicious.
Letters jointly signed by the council and police containing tell-tell signs and specific information about CSE were sent to local taxi drivers, hoteliers, bus company employees and licensed premises in the Borough.
Successful prosecutions of people elsewhere in the country have shown that employees in those particular business sectors are likely to encounter signs of CSE.
Councillor Fionuala Foley, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, said: “Child sexual exploitation is a terrible crime, carried out by people who prey on vulnerable children who may not even realise they are being exploited by forcing them into sexual acts.
“It is a national issue and everybody has a big role to play by recognising the signs and reporting anything that they may see or experience, to help keep young people safe. We will continue to work closely with our partners and all sectors of the community to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation.”
Wiltshire Council set up a new team in partnership with Wiltshire Police in October 2015 to focus on missing children and those affected by CSE. The team, known as the Emerald Team, has been working directly with victims of CSE and has seen a steady increase in the number of referrals.
More than 200 taxi drivers have also been trained to be aware of the signs of CSE, and Wiltshire Council has now made it a condition of renewing a licence to successfully complete the training.
Laura Mayes, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services for Wiltshire Council, said: “People may be surprised when they realise incidences of CSE can happen in a place such as Wiltshire. The reality is we all need to be aware of the signs and ensure we play our part in protecting our young people against this heinous crime. Our close working with our partners is a key part of ensuring we are united in our resolve to address this serious issue.”
Angus Macpherson, Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon, said: “It is essential that we all play our part in tackling child sexual exploitation. CSE takes many forms but they all have one thing in common, manipulating young people into sexual activity which can have a devastating effect on a young person’s life.
“Protecting young people is a key priority for me. Working in partnership with Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner, Wiltshire Police, Local Authorities including Swindon Borough Council and Wiltshire Council, and Barnardo’s we have launched the West of England CSE service to identify and support victims of CSE and those who are at risk.
“I have funded Trowbridge based charity Splitz, TeenzTalk to work with young people in schools to educate them about heathy relationships. Working together with local agencies and the community is vital in tackling those individuals who carry out these awful crimes.”
Detective Superintendent Craig Holden, Head of Public Protection at Wiltshire Police, said: “This campaign is all about getting the message out to communities to help them recognise the signs of CSE and how they can report their concerns so we can take action. We’re delighted to support it once again.
“We take all reports of Child Sexual Exploitation extremely seriously and we work closely with our partners to do all we can to bring offenders to justice and provide support to victims. I’d urge anyone that spots something suspicious, no matter how insignificant they may think it is, to report it. It may be the vital piece of information we need to protect a child from serious harm.”
Hilary Walker, Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust’s Chief Nurse, said: “We fully support National Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day and over the last 12 months we have dramatically increased the safeguarding training offered to our staff, so they can not only spot the signs of abuse, neglect and exploitation earlier, but also feel more confident in reporting incidents.
“As well as working closely with the police and local councils to protect children and vulnerable adults, many of our departments, especially Sexual Health and the Children’s Unit, follow national processes for identifying exploitation at the earliest opportunity, while our sexual health outreach nurses also provide a key line of communication between young people and the support services available locally.”
James Dunne, Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group’s Designated Nurse for Safeguarding Children, said: “All healthcare staff and agencies need to work together to spot the signs of a child or young person being sexually exploited. Whether we’re a GP, nurse, A&E staff, health visitors, school nurses, sexual health clinics, hospital staff or school teachers – we all have a crucial role to think, spot and speak out against abuse.”
Alex Walters, Independent Chair of the Swindon Local Safeguarding Children Board, said: “There is a significant amount of effective partnership working by all agencies at local, regional and national levels to tackle all child abuse including child sexual exploitation.
“In Swindon the LSCB is clear that raising awareness of child sexual exploitation is a key priority and organisations and the public working together can only help safeguard our children.”
Mark Gurrey, Independent Chair of the Wiltshire Safeguarding Children Board said: “We are making real progress in addressing CSE however we can always do more and together with our partners we want to ensure all members of our communities are aware of the signs and can help ensure we protect our young people from falling victim to CSE.”
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’s Family Contact Point during office hours (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm) on 01793 466903 or send an email to FCP@swindon.gov.uk
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.