Operation Makesafe: Could you spot the signs?

Could you spot the signs of child sexual exploitation? It may be closer than you think…

Today sees the launch of Operation Makesafe in Gwent, an initiative focused on ensuring that communities in Gwent along with people working in the business sector are aware of the early warning signs of child sexual exploitation (CSE).

Officers are also keen to raise awareness among parents and even children themselves who may not be aware that they or their friends are being exploited.

Local and national evidence shows that CSE can take place in hotels, pubs, cafés and places licenced to sell alcohol. Taxis can also be used to transport young people who are then exploited. We are working to make sure people employed in these environments are able to spot the warning signs and bespoke training packages have been created for each sector so people have the confidence to easily report their concerns.

CSE isn’t always easy to spot, but there are signs to look out for which could indicate that it is taking place. If you work in a local business and come across a situation that looks or feel suspicious, talk to your supervisor and contact the police quoting ‘Operation Makesafe’.

Detective Sergeant Louisa Wilson who is the lead for Operation Makesafe explained, “Often what the young person seeks more than anything else is love and attention and it is that desire which will be used to sexually exploit them. We should remember the young person may have been sexually exploited even if it appears that the sexual activity is consensual. A child cannot consent to their own abuse.

“The mantra for everyone must be if you see something or hear of something that causes you concern and causes you to think something is just not right then don’t ignore it. Don’t ignore your gut feeling…say something if you see something.”

What are some of the signs that a child or young person may be being sexually exploited?

Has the young person received unexplained gifts or money?

Do they use their mobile phone excessively and secretively?

Do they have significantly older friends?

Have they been picked up from home or school by someone you don't know?

Are they associating with other young people who are already known to be vulnerable or involved in exploitation?

Have they started playing truant from school or regularly going missing from home?

Have they suffered from a sexually-transmitted infection?

Are they self-harming?

Has their appearance changed?

If you know a young person displaying warning signs and vulnerabilities from the above list you should take action and seek help. 

Assistant Chief Constable Rhiannon Kirk said, “Offenders come from many different social and ethnic backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common. They are abusing young people and are using their status or position to exploit vulnerable young people.

“We’re working robustly with our partner agencies to tackle child sexual exploitation but there is more we can all do and we need everyone to be vigilant. We will continue to target, disrupt and prosecute offenders to reinforce the message that this type of behaviour is not acceptable, it is child abuse and is a criminal offence.”

The Police and Crime Commissioner for Gwent, Jeff Cuthbert, said: “This is an important initiative which raises awareness of child sexual exploitation and will no doubt help more people to spot the signs and show them where they can go to seek help and support. One of the key values and principles featured within my Police and Crime Plan for Gwent is to have regard to the needs, safeguarding and welfare of children. We all have a duty and a responsibility to ensure we do everything we possibly can to keep children safe.”

If you or someone you know is being exploited, help is available.  For confidential help and advice call Gwent Police on 101 or 999 if you think someone is in immediate danger. You can also ring childline for help and advice on 0800 11 11.

If you would prefer not to speak to the police you can contact Children's Services in your area:

Caerphilly: 0808 1001727

Torfaen: 01495 762200

Blaenau Gwent: 01495 315700

Newport: 01633 656656

Monmouthshire: 01291 635669

Emergency duty team: 0800 3284432

All week, we will be publishing advice and guidance on our social media pages using the hashtags #OpMakesafe and #spotthesigns – follow us for more information. You can also find help and guidance on our webpage www.gwent.police.uk