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Is Your Child Safe?

24 July 2023

The Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s Violence Reduction Unit in partnership with Hampshire County Council, Isle of Wight Council, Portsmouth City Council and Southampton City Council have relaunched a campaign to raise awareness of child exploitation aimed at parents. The IS YOUR CHILD SAFE? campaign offers help on how to see the signs, what to do and where to get help.

Child exploitation is happening now in Hampshire and on the Isle of Wight. The signs are subtle, which is why it is called a hidden harm.

Children who are subject to exploitation are often reported as missing to the police.

In the last 12 months (July 2022 – June 2023), 3576 children were reported missing to Hampshire and Isle of Wight Constabulary.  Many of these children went missing several times.

Children who go missing regularly are much more vulnerable to exploitation and it is often the most common sign something is wrong.

Exploitation is when individuals or groups take advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child into doing what they want in exchange for something the child wants or needs. This is always to the benefit of the exploiter. This can include the child being coerced into having sex or committing crimes, like carrying and delivering cash or drugs for a gang.

People, normally older children and young adults, befriend a child and build trust with them to develop a relationship in order to get them to do what they want.

They may offer children money, drugs, gifts, protection, friendship, love or affection as a means of gaining their trust. They may also use physical violence and threats as a means of control once the relationship has been established.

This is often called Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) or Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and involves grooming.

Children are at risk in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight and it’s important for parents to see the warning signs.

Donna Jones, Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight said: “This summer, I am relaunching the Is Your Child Safe campaign, supported by all four councils, the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) and the police to raise awareness of child exploitation.

“As a partnership, we must ensure we are doing everything we can to prevent the criminalisation of children and protect them from exploitation and abuse by people they think are their friends.

“This awareness starts with seeing the signs, whether that’s parents, guardians or care givers; all have a role in understanding what exploitation looks like and where to get help.

“As Police Commissioner, I fund a wide range of services that ensure young people who are at risk, or are victims of abuse or exploitation get support.

“Better outcomes for all children need a consistent approach to child safety which is why I am really pleased to be launching this campaign in partnership again this year.”

Jim Pegler, Director of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Violence Reduction Unit said: “There is strong evidence that shows children who have positive and trusted adult role models are less likely to be exploited into criminality or violence.

“I know it can be difficult to fund activity and often parents and guardians have to work throughout the summer holidays to provide for their families.

“However, most local authorities have online resources which list activities available over the summer to ensure those who care for children have options which can help keep their child safe.”

See the signs

  • Regularly going missing/coming home late
  • Increasingly secretive
  • Suddenly having an older boyfriend/girlfriend or friendship group
  • Sudden change in friendships
  • Returning home under the influence of drugs/alcohol
  • Unexplained injuries
  • STDs or pregnancy/terminations
  • Getting into trouble at school/in the community
  • Suddenly having expensive clothes, trainers, money and valuable items
  • Asking for money for often excessive need for money
  • Receiving a lot of texts/phone calls
  • Burner phones/multiple phones
  • Sudden interest in gang culture/drill music or other types of music you are not familiar with
  • Change in language – use of urban slang or phrases related to drug dealing
  • Carrying items linked to criminal activity like weapons, balaclavas, tools, stash bags or small weighing scales

What can I do?

  • Ask questions and listen without judgement. Children need to know they can talk without fear of their parents getting cross and upset
  • Pay attention to their behaviour. Many children cannot voice their worries but will show them in how they act
  • Know their friends. Question new friendships and be aware of any secrecy around these
  • If your child is picked up by someone in a car, make you know who they are and where they are going, and record as much detail as possible
  • If your child takes a journey on a train or bus on their own, check their ticket, know the route and their destination
  • Take an active interest in their online life by checking their phone and internet history
  • Use online security settings and talk about the sites they are visiting and why

Get help – visit our website to see the support available in your area

The campaign will run throughout the summer holidays.