People are being urged to report suspected child abuse and exploitation following a fortnight of activity by Wiltshire Police to disrupt county lines activity in Swindon.
County lines is when gangs and organised crime networks exploit children to sell drugs. Often these children are made to travel across counties, and they use dedicated mobile phone lines to supply drugs.
Wiltshire Police made arrests and obtained a closure order at a property where county lines activity was suspected of taking place.
Now Swindon Borough Council is encouraging people to report any concerns they may have about the safeguarding of a child or young person so that the Council can step in to make sure the child is safe.
Residents are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the different extensions of abuse:
- Physical abuse – including punching, hitting, kicking and burning
- Emotional abuse - including bullying, unkind words and damaging their self esteem
- Neglect - including denying a child food, warmth, clothing or shelter
- Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) - making a child perform sexual acts
- Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) – making a child partake in illegal activities
- Grooming – building a relationship or friendship with a child in order to exploit them
- Online abuse – including bullying and grooming a child online or on a mobile
- Trafficking – transporting a child from one place to another to be exploited
- Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) – removing the external female genitalia
It is not always obvious that child abuse or exploitation is taking place. Every resident can help by remaining alert and reporting any behaviour that they believe to be suspicious. Abuse and exploitation can happen anywhere and to anyone, regardless of age, gender or socio-economic background.
Research nationally suggests that currently many people will unknowingly put children at further risk by failing to alert the authorities due to fear of reprisals. If a resident suspects that a child is in danger, they do not need to be certain to make a report and can do so anonymously if they wish.
Exploitation can take many forms. There have been many high profile cases in the media about sexual exploitation and the devastating and lifelong effect it can have on the lives of young people.
It is important that residents are aware of some of the signs that a child or young person is involved in an exploitative situation. Some common indicators include, missing school or being disruptive in class, isolation from peers or social networks, unexplained acquisition of material possessions and relationships with older individuals and groups.
Councillor Mary Martin, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and School Attainment, said: “I strongly encourage residents to familiarise themselves with the signs of child abuse and exploitation. Residents should keep an eye out so that they can spot it within their community.
“We all have a role to play to ensure our children and young people are safe and protected. It is really important that residents report any suspicions they may have as soon as they have them, our team of specialists are always available to provide advice and support.”
Superintendent Andy Fee, Head of Public Protection at Wiltshire Police, said: “Child exploitation is one of the biggest demands experienced by police forces around the country, but it’s one of those areas that many people will not be aware of. We need people within our communities to familiarise themselves with some of the most common signs that a young person is being exploited, so they can report it to us and we can take action.
“Child exploitation can happen in many different forms and it can happen to anyone from all different backgrounds, and both boys and girls.
“We are continuing to work extremely closely with partner agencies, including local authorities and the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, to not just bring offenders to justice, but to provide support to victims.
“Help us tackle it and protect some of the most vulnerable people within our society by recognising the signs that someone is at risk.”
Residents are urged to either contact the Council by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, calling 01793 466903 during office hours or 101 outside of office hours if they are concerned about someone they know or to ring 999 if they believe a child is in immediate danger.
For more information people can visit the Council’s website at: swindon.gov.uk/dontignoreit