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CE the Signs – Child Exploitation Campaign

CE the signs

If you have immediate concerns about a child or young person’s safety, please telephone the Multi Agency Referral Unit (MARU) on 0300 123 1116 or speak to the police.

If you are located on the Isles of Scilly, please telephone the Children’s Social Care Team on 01720 424483. For Out of Hours enquiries call 01720 422699.

If the situation is an emergency, please dial 999 and speak to the police. 

Exploited children and young people may not look like they’re being exploited. They may not seem vulnerable and they might not behave like victims. But exploitation, whether it’s criminal or sexual, poses a real threat to the lives of children and young people across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and must be stopped.

If we all learn to #CEtheSigns of child exploitation, we can work together to protect them from harm and stop this abuse from happening in the first place.

If you see something that doesn’t look right, it might not be. So, please: learn the signs of exploitation and report any concerns today.

What is child exploitation? +

Child exploitation is when criminals use tactics of abuse or violence to manipulate children and young people into committing crimes, or taking part in other criminal activities, for the benefit of others. Exploitation can affect children and young people of any age, sometimes even those as young as 7, and takes many different forms.

Child criminal exploitation can include children being forced to work in cannabis factories, being coerced into moving drugs or money across the country, forced into stealing, or to threaten other young people. The most common example of this is known as ‘county lines’, where criminal networks typically exploit young people and vulnerable groups to distribute drugs and money across the country.

Child sexual exploitation involves young people and children being 'groomed' and sexually exploited. It can take many forms, such as through an apparently 'consensual' relationship with an older person or a young person having sex in return for attention, gifts, cigarettes or alcohol.

CE the Signs of exploitation +

Exploited young people and children may not always look vulnerable or act like victims, however, there are a number of warning signs to look out for that may indicate something is wrong:

  • Travelling alone, particularly in school hours, late at night or frequently?
  • Looking lost or in unfamiliar surroundings?
  • Anxious, frightened, angry or displaying other behaviours that make you worried about them?
  • In possession of more than one phone?
  • Carrying lots of cash?
  • Potentially under the influence of drugs or alcohol?
  • Being instructed or controlled by another individual?
  • Accompanied by individuals who are older than them?
  • Seen begging in a public place?
  • Unexplained gifts, like new clothes or a new phone?
  • Spending time with much older people they say are friends?
  • Being picked up from home or school by someone you don't know?
  • Has the way they dress changed?
  • Could they be self-harming?
  • Has their mood or their interests changed?

These signs don’t necessarily mean that a child or young person is being exploited, however, telling us when something doesn’t seem right is the best way to help to protect a child or young person from harm.

Please don’t wait to report. If you #CEtheSigns, say something.

Who is at risk of exploitation? +

Any child or young person can be at risk of exploitation, but certain vulnerabilities may increase the risk of it happening. This includes:

  • Growing up in poverty
  • Having learning difficulties
  • Being excluded from school
  • Living with a difficult or challenging household
  • Having a lack of friends in the same age group
  • Confusion about their sexuality
  • A history of domestic abuse or neglect
  • Coming into contact with other exploited youngsters, e.g. at school
  • Suffering a recent bereavement or loss
  • Being homeless or living in residential care, a hostel or bed and breakfast
  • Having low self-esteem or confidence
  • Being a young carer
  • Living in a gang neighbourhood

Many young people who are being exploited do not realise they are at risk and will not ask for help. Some may see themselves as willing participants, not realising that what is happening to them is abuse and illegal.

However, it is important that we recognise that exploited children are victims, not criminals. If you know a child or young person displaying any of the key warning signs, particularly if they fit within any of the descriptions above, please report it today.

Where does exploitation take place? +

Young people can be exploited anywhere, but you may be more likely to encounter victims of exploitation in these kinds of locations:

  • Public transport: used by organised crime groups to transport victims of exploitation.
  • Hotels: perpetrators often use hotel rooms or private lets to sexually abuse and criminally exploit young people. They can also be used by organised crime groups
  • Supervised locations, such as youth or sports clubs: these could be targeted by perpetrators for grooming.
  • Petrol/service stations: young people who are being exploited may stop at service or petrol stations to use the bathroom or get food.
  • Fast-food outlets: fast-food outlets offer affordable food and, often, access to free Wi-Fi. They may also be open 24-hours a day which perpetrators can take advantage of.
  • Hair and beauty salons: young people who are trafficked into the country are sometimes made to work and stay in these settings.
  • Derelict buildings: derelict buildings are often used by perpetrators and organised crime groups to sexually abuse and criminally exploit young people.
  • Beaches and skateparks: could be targeted by perpetrators for grooming.

Importantly, exploitation can also take place online as well as offline. For example, some young adults with an interest in technology or an enthusiasm for gaming may be tricked into getting involved in cyber criminality without realising they’re breaking the law. Visit getsafeonline.org for more information on the different types of online exploitation.

Report it -

You don’t have to be absolutely certain; if you’re concerned a child is being exploited or their safety is at risk, speak to someone.

You can report your concern to the Multi-Agency Referral Unit who will consider what information should be provided and decide what steps to take next.

The information you provide, not matter how small or insignificant you think it is, could be the missing piece of information needed to keep a child or young person safe from harm.

If you are worried about a child or young adult who is in immediate danger, please call 999 and speak to the police.

Download our free resources

Tackling child exploitation is everyone’s responsibility.

We need as many people as possible across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to read and share the information on this website. By engaging with this campaign and sharing it with those you know, you can help to encourage people to come forward and report suspected child exploitation.

Follow the link above to download some free resources and help to spread the word today about how important it is to #CEtheSigns.

Am I or my friends being exploited?

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