Dear editor,

Across the country, thousands of children and young people are subjected to horrific exploitation and abuse every year.

They are groomed by predators with offers of friendship, gifts, cash and status then coerced using terrifying threats and violence into crimes like trafficking drugs in ‘county lines’ operations. Children are also exploited for sex and some are forced to work in premises like car washes and nail bars.

In the East of England in 2019/20, gangs were identified as a risk 1,240 times in assessments of children referred to social services, while trafficking was deemed to be a factor on 240 occasions, both indicators of child criminal exploitation. Risks of child sexual exploitation were highlighted in 1,670 assessments and in 1,480 instances, children going missing, also a sign of exploitation, was pinpointed as a factor.

However, many children are too scared to tell adults what is happening. That’s why we need your help. During the week from Monday 17 May The Children’s Society is running a ‘Look Closer’ Awareness Week with the National County Lines Coordination Centre and police forces across the country including British Transport Police. Our ongoing #Look Closer campaign urges everyone – from commuters and delivery drivers to hotel and shop staff – to look out for signs of child exploitation in public spaces and their neighbourhood and report any concerns.

Signs could include children carrying large amounts of cash, appearing under the control of others, looking lost, or travelling alone at night. Trauma may lead to children appearing angry or aggressive rather than vulnerable or upset as people might expect – so look beyond the obvious.

Anyone worried about a child can call police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111. If there is an immediate risk to a child dial 999. If you are on a train text British Transport Police on 61016

You may not be sure about your concerns, but trust your instincts. Your phone call could be a crucial first step in helping a child escape a situation of terrible abuse and unimaginable trauma.

Mark Russell
Chief Executive
The Children’s Society