Think, spot, and speak out against child exploitation
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Today, Friday 18 March, aims to highlight and raise awareness of the signs of exploitation and where victims, or concerned loved ones, can go for help.
With the internet and social media now a daily part of our lives, more than ever we all have a part to play in helping to safeguard our children from those who want to cause harm and exploit them. We understand that protecting your children with the ever-growing number of apps, games, and social media platforms can be difficult.
We have several specialised teams working to help safeguard children and catch those who wish to exploit them. We spoke to two such teams about what they do and what advice they would give to parents and carers.
The CSE Proactive and POLIT Teams
The Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Proactive Investigation Team launched July 2020 to investigate crimes of child exploitation as reported by victims or cases referred from partner organisations. The team look after each case from the initial report, carry out the investigations, to seeing a case through the court process. They safeguard victims and help them get any additional support they need based on individual requirements.
Detective Sergeant Ben Rushmere, who leads the team, said:
“Child exploitation is a form of child abuse and some children may not realise they are being groomed when they are offered money, gifts, or friendship. “It is not always easy to spot the signs of exploitation – other than unexplained gifts some of the other signs maybe a dramatic change in appearance, acting more secretively, unexplained injuries and going missing from home and school”
The team take on the most complex investigations which can involve multiple victims or offenders and can span several counties or even countries.
DS Rushmere went on to say:
"We know that reporting and talking about sexual exploitation takes courage and, sometimes, victims are not always able or willing to speak out due to their circumstances. The work we do is very victim-focused and one of the things that I am most proud of is when we can still help in these cases. “Depending on the information we receive, my team can disrupt this criminal behaviour and arrest serious offenders – ultimately protecting vulnerable children. We carry out search warrants, issue Sexual Risk Orders, and can even close down businesses that are being used as a base for criminal activity. We will always look for a way to help safeguard victims.”
Another specialized team dedicated to protecting your family online is The Police Online Investigation Team (POLIT) who focus on identifying online predators who groom young people and make and share images of child sexual abuse.
Detective Sergeant Suzanne O’Neill explains:
“We know the more time children spend online, sadly, the more opportunities there are for people to exploit them. My team seize electronic devices – including phones and laptops – and review images and chat logs where children are clearly being groomed.
“By having specialist teams dedicated to investigating these crime types we can better support the victims of these horrific crimes. We’re able to give these investigations, which can be complex and lengthy, an increased focus.”
What advice would you give parents or carers?
DS O’Neill said:
“One of the best tips I could give anyone is to make sure you check the settings on your phone and apps and turn off location services when they are not needed. That way even if your child does post a photo online it can’t be traced back to a specific location”
DS Rushmere added:
“I would say talking to children from an early age and help them understand what is and isn’t acceptable online behaviour”. “Two of the biggest obstacles to reporting this type of crime appears to be the fear of not being believed and embarrassment. Help make this easier for your child by starting the conversation early, ask them to show you what their favourite TikTok video is, or teach you how to play their favourite online game.”
Where can you get help?
There is a wide range of information available on how to help keep your children safe. Most social media platforms have dedicated areas on their websites.