A week of awareness to encourage people to report incidents of child exploitation is being supported by Kent Police.
The Children’s Society #LookCloser campaign is being launched on 14 September 2020 and urges people to look out for young people who may be victims of criminal activity, including county lines drugs supply.
Whilst paying particular attention to public spaces like train stations, fast food outlets, roadside services and hotels, members of the public and employees in the service industries are being urged to contact police if they think a young person is at risk.
The exploitation could involve organised criminal networks grooming children to sell drugs - a common tactic deployed by county lines gangs.
Detective Inspector Matthew Talboys, of Kent Police, said: ‘The campaign urges people to look beyond the obvious to identify those who might be at risk. Often young people that are being exploited do not appear to be vulnerable or act like ‘victims’ but could be in need of protection.
'In many cases the young person does not understand that they are being exploited and they distrust the police. They sometimes appear angry or aggressive, which is a common sign of trauma. They need to feel safe and heard so they can be comfortable in talking about what has happened to them.'
If you see a young person and you think that something isn’t right, report it, you could be saving a child from further harm.
Report any concerns to the police on 101. If on a train text British Transport Police on 61016. Always dial 999 if there is an immediate risk to a child.
James Simmonds-Read, National Prevention Programme Manager at The Children's Society, which has launched the #Look Closer campaign, added: ‘Criminals groom children through emotional manipulation, with drugs and alcohol or promises of status and wealth. They then trap them in situations of exploitation using terrifying threats, violence and sexual abuse.
'Any child in any community can be vulnerable but they may be too scared to raise concerns and many do not see themselves as victims because they have been manipulated. That’s why it’s vital not only professionals like police officers and social workers but everyone in society is able to look closer for the warning signs of exploitation and report concerns.’