Swindon Borough Council and Wiltshire Police are launching a campaign to encourage local people to know the signs of child abuse and exploitation and how to report it.

The new campaign aims to encourage people to report any concerns they may have that a child is in danger so that authorities can step in to make sure the child is safe.

Residents are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the main types of abuse:

  • Physical – including punching, hitting, kicking and burning
  • Emotional – including bullying, unkind words and damaging their self esteem
  • Online grooming – including building a relationship online with the aim to exploit the child either digitally or in real life
  • Sexual – including making a child perform sexual acts
  • Neglect – including denying a child food, warmth, clothing or shelter

Child exploitation and abuse is often hidden and every resident can help by being alert to the warning signs of exploitation and to report them to the Council immediately if they suspect abuse is taking place. Abuse and exploitation can happen anywhere and to anyone, regardless of age, gender or socio-economic background.

Research nationally suggests that currently many people will unknowingly put children at further risk by failing to alert the authorities due to fear of reprisals. If a resident suspects that a child is in danger, they do not need to be certain to make a report and can do so anonymously if they wish.

Exploitation can take many forms. There have been many high profile cases in the media about sexual exploitation and the devastating and lifelong effect it can have on the lives of young people. However, there is also a serious issue with criminal exploitation which involves criminal gangs from cities using young children as drug runners and recruiting them to perform other criminal activities with the promise of rewards for doing so, often known as ‘County Lines’. These forms of exploitation, without intervention, can lead to children experiencing a lifetime of being caught up in a dangerous cycle of abuse that they are unable to break.

Detective Superintendent Deb Smith, Head of Public Protection at Wiltshire Police, said: “Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) can happen in many different forms and it can happen to anyone from all different backgrounds, and to both boys and girls.

“Although this is one of the biggest demands experienced by police forces around the country; it’s one of those areas that many people will not be aware of. This week, we are supporting Swindon Borough Council in asking people within our communities to familiarise themselves with some of the most common signs that a young person is being exploited or abused, so they can report it to us and we can take action.

“We also continue to work extremely closely with partner agencies, including local authorities, health and the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, to not just bring offenders to justice, but to provide support to victims”.

Cllr Mary Martin, Cabinet Member for Children and School Attainment, said: “I strongly encourage residents to familiarise themselves with the signs of child abuse and exploitation. Residents should keep an eye out so that they can spot it within their community

“It’s really important that residents don’t assume that their suspicion is wrong or that the child is already known to Social Services as this may not be the case and it could save a child from serious danger.”

Residents are urged to either contact the Council by emailing swindonmash@swindon.gov.uk, calling 01793 466903 during office hours or 101 outside of office hours if they are concerned about someone they know or to ring 999 if they see children in immediate danger.

For more information people can visit the Council’s website.