Hammersmith & Fulham Council and the Met Police have launched a bold new campaign to fight child sexual exploitation helping the public spot the signs of abuse.
Officers have been visiting employees in businesses across the borough where vulnerable children may be taken or groomed – such as hotels, pubs and internet cafes – to offer free police training.
And a poster campaign has been launched to encourage you to ‘say something if you see something’.
“The young victims of this terrible crime are too vulnerable to speak out themselves, they rely on people’s vigilance,” said Cllr Sue Macmillan, H&F Cabinet Member for Children and Young People.
“This training will give people the vital skills they need to spot and help put a stop to this horrific abuse which no child should ever be the victim of.
“We are committed to working with the police to fight this abhorrent crime.”
Child sexual exploitation is a type of sexual abuse in which children are sexually exploited for money, power or status.
Children or young people may be tricked into believing they're in a loving, consensual relationship. They might be invited to parties and given drugs and alcohol. They may also be groomed online.
"Operation Makesafe is a key part of our strategy to tackle child sexual exploitation,” said H&F Borough Commander, Chief Superintendent Gideon Springer.
“We are aware from nationwide research that some venues in the hospitality trade are targeted by perpetrators who use these facilities to groom vulnerable young people.
“We are reaching out to our business partners asking them to help us identify if we have any such venues in H&F. We believe that local businesses can play a positive role in preventing child sexual exploitation and protecting our children. This is one of a number of tactics used by the Met Police Service to tackle this damaging and sometimes invisible crime."
Detective Chief Inspector Sarah Pearce, leading the operation, added: "We have begun training staff in hotels, mini cab offices and licensed premises.
“Local police officers explain to staff what the definition of child sexual exploitation includes, the statutory responsibilities they have and the signs to look out for. The message is simple - say something if you see something.
“All of us have a moral obligation to protect our children and it is important for local business to protect their reputation and ensure their premises are not used for criminal activity.
“So far the response has been very encouraging with businesses keen to get involved and support the campaign. Working together is the best way to keep our communities safe.”
It is estimated two million children under the age of 16 across the UK are affected by sexual violence or abuse – with police receiving over 1,000 child sexual exploitation referrals for children identified as being at risk.
Businesses that sign up to Operation Makesafe will be provided with free police training which will allow them to not only recognise the signs of a child at risk, but to report the incident anonymously to police by calling 101 and quoting Operation Makesafe.