BAVEX pledge Image supplied by Bedfordshire Police

Bedfordshire Against Violence and Exploitation (BAVEX) is a new campaign which aims to raise awareness around things like modern slavery, cuckooing and child sexual exploitation in the county.

The project, which has launched on National Child Exploitation Awareness Day (17 March 2021), has worked with a series of different groups in Bedfordshire to spread its messages as far as possible.

BAVEX is backed by a range of different organisations in the county, both statutory as well as charities.

This includes the Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Bedford Borough Council, Central Bedfordshire Council, Luton Council, Bedfordshire Police, the Bedfordshire and Luton Clinical Commissioning Groups, the Bedfordshire Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU), Azalea, Crimestoppers, Link to Change, the Luton Homeless Partnership and the Modern Slavery Helpline.

Kathryn Holloway, Bedfordshire’s police and crime commissioner, said:

“When it comes to the exploitation of children and vulnerable adults by criminals, police simply can’t achieve an end to this insidious behaviour, taking over lives and terrorising victims, on their own.

“This fantastic project means Bedfordshire’s safeguarding services are genuinely working together to spot the signs of exploitation and reach out to victims.

To mark the launch, a video outlining six examples of exploitation by organised crime in the county is being released, in the hope it will compel communities to come forward with concerns.

It also forms the basis of an online pledge people are being encouraged to share on social media to support the BAVEX campaign by shining a light on exploitation.

Commissioner Holloway said:

“The down to earth, accessible and hard hitting Youtube content that accompanies this work explains the many facets of these crimes, taking place right here in Bedfordshire, in a way that anyone seeing it should be able to understand.

“I highly recommend a viewing and sharing it as widely as possible on your social media and with family and friends.”

BAVEX victims Image supplied by Bedfordshire Police

An artistic mural has also been created with young people in the county to reflect their views of what violence and exploitation means to them.

Artist Daniel Weatheritt designed the infographic in collaboration with young people from all three local authorities in the county as well as charity Link to Change, which works with child victims of exploitation.

The infographic will appear on Centrebus, Grant Palmer and Stagecoach buses throughout the county over the coming weeks.

Lisa Robinson, the exploitation lead for Bedfordshire’s VERU, said:

“Violence and exploitation can cause lifelong emotional and physical trauma for victims and their families, so combatting and tackling this is a priority for us in Bedfordshire.

“We need to continue to work in partnership to safeguard victims, bring offenders to justice and help keep everyone safe from harm.

“We all need to work together to tackle violence and exploitation in Bedfordshire.”

Councillor James Valentine, portfolio holder for children’s services and education at Bedford Borough Council, said:

“Exploitation can cause lifelong emotional and physical trauma for victims and their families.

“Bedford Borough Council is extremely supportive of this latest awareness campaign as it will highlight how exploitation can develop, helping people to identify the signs so action can be taken.

“Everyone can play a part in helping to keep young people and communities in Bedford Borough safe, whether at home, in care, online or just out and about.”

Councillor Sue Clark, Central Bedfordshire Council’s executive member for families, education and children, said:

“Working in partnership and with our communities is key to ending exploitation and BAVEX is a really important step in continuing to do that.

“It sends a strong message that together, we will continue to ensure our communities are kept safe for our residents and that our children are safe from harm.”

Detective Chief Inspector Elaine Cook, from Bedfordshire Police’s Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and Missing Persons Team, said:

“We are a dedicated team of officers and a CSE coordinator who safeguard young people living in our county from the risk of child sexual exploitation though intervention, prevention, education and disruption, working alongside our three local authorities and partners from health, education and charities within the county to ensure that our young people are safe and aware of the mechanisms used by perpetrators and the risks involved.

“It is imperative that we all work together to stop these crimes from happening, which I am delighted to see from this new campaign.”

For more information about the campaign visit the BAVEX website.

Call to action Image supplied by Bedfordshire Police