Children and young people who are being exploited may not always look or act vulnerable. If something doesn’t feel right, it may not be.
#LookCloser is a campaign in partnership with The Children's Society that focuses on public spaces where exploitation may be most visible to the public - parks, supermarkets, transport, banks and online environments like gaming platforms and social media.
We also know that bias can be a huge barrier in identifying young people who are being exploited. #LookCloser highlights that there is ‘no perfect victim’ and any young person can be exploited.
Knowing where exploitation could happen
Criminals are always adapting and evolving their tactics to groom and exploit children and young people.
Young people can be exploited anywhere. These are some of the common sites where you may be able to spot the signs:
Public transport: Trains, trams, coaches and buses are all used by organised crime groups to transport children for exploitation.
Petrol/service stations: Young people who are being exploited may stop at service and petrol stations to use the bathroom or get food.
Car washes: Young people trafficked into the country are sometimes made to work in this setting.
Fast food outlets, cafés and shopping centres: These popular youth spaces provide affordable food and access to wi-fi. Some outlets are open 24 hours a day. Perpetrators sometimes take advantage of this.
Hotels/private lets: Perpetrators often use hotel rooms or private lets to sexually abuse and criminally exploit young people. They can also be used as a base by organised crime groups to store, prepare and distribute drugs.
Taxis and ride shares: Taxis and private ride share apps can be used to transport exploited young people.
Hair and beauty salons: Young people trafficked into the country are sometimes made to work and stay in these settings.
#LookCloser for the signs of exploitation
There could be physical or emotional signs of a child or young person being exploited. Is the child or young person:
Travelling alone, particularly in school hours, late at night or frequently?
Looking lost or in unfamiliar surroundings?
Anxious, frightened, angry or displaying other behaviours that make you worried about them?
In possession of more than one phone?
Carrying lots of cash?
Potentially under the influence of drugs or alcohol?
Being instructed or controlled by another individual?
Accompanied by individuals who are older than them?
Seen begging in a public space?
Furthermore, young people who are being exploited:
May not understand or recognise that they are being exploited
May not always look vulnerable or act like we may expect a victim should
Could behave aggressively as this is a common response to trauma
May need you to look beyond the obvious to protect them from harm
Need to feel safe and heard in order to talk
May find it difficult to find the right words to tell you their story
May have committed offences as part of their exploitation
Will often distrust the police and other adults in authority
Can be scared about what might happen to them next
How you can help
Collectively we can safeguard more young people if we all know what to look out for and how to report concerns to the police.
If something is worrying you about a young person’s behaviour or appearance and it is safe to do so, ask them if they are ok – it could make a difference. Some ways to start a conversation:
‘You look lost. Do you need some help?’
‘Hi. Are you alright? Where are you off to today? Where have you travelled from today?’
‘I hope you don’t mind me saying, but you seem a little upset? Can I help?’
How to report
Help us protect children and young people from exploitation and abuse. Don’t wait. Report it.
If you are concerned about a child and think it’s an emergency, dial 999 or 101 if it’s not an emergency. You can also report it online.
If on a train, text British Transport Police on 61016.
If you would rather remain anonymous, you can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers online or call 0800 555 111.