People in Hertfordshire are being asked to be vigilant and work together to prevent child sexual exploitation in the county.

There are a number of common signs associated with child sexual exploitation including staying away from home, having friends who are significantly older and having expensive gifts. If anyone suspects that a child or young person is being sexually exploited they are being asked to report it straight away.

The Hertfordshire Safeguarding Children Board is working with local businesses, including hotels, licensed premises and taxi firms to launch the ‘Say something if you see something’ campaign; which aims to raise awareness of the signs to look out for and the actions to take if they suspect that a child or young person is being sexually exploited.

Working together under the name Halo, Hertfordshire’s local authorities have produced hard hitting campaign material, including posters and information packs for businesses.

Phil Picton, chair of Hertfordshire Safeguarding Children Board (HSCB), said:"Child Sexual Exploitation is an issue which affects towns and cities across the country. The most effective way to tackle these crimes is to work in partnership and raise awareness of this awful crime amongst professionals, businesses and members of the public. Following the launch of the Halo child sexual exploitation awareness campaign last November there has been a 50% increase in referrals to the Halo team. All referrals are fully investigated and where children have been abused police will always work with partners to ensure offenders are brought to justice.”

Richard Roberts, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services said: “Although we do not have a big problem in Hertfordshire, we must always be aware that young people can be groomed and sexually exploited in many ways and at a variety of premises. We believe that local businesses, together with district councils, can play a positive role in preventing child sexual exploitation.

“We want to support them in protecting our children and young people and to be vigilant about what goes on in their own businesses to reduce the risk of these crimes. We also want to encourage the wider community to consider the signs to look out for and report any concerns they may have to make sure that children and young people are protected from harm.  Everyone has the power to prevent child sexual exploitation. Our message is clear - if you see something, please say something."

The ‘say something if you see something’ awareness campaign also aims to inform professionals, parents and children about behaviour that is tragically becoming prominent in many parts of the country.

Assistant Chief Constable Michelle Dunn said: “I would like to reassure you that our joint working in tackling Child Sexual Exploitation is making a difference, but we must not be complacent. We need the help of our communities, including those in business, to ensure these predatory offenders are prevented from committing these crimes. Where crimes do occur we will ensure offenders are brought to justice and children are protected from becoming victims again.

"This is a crime that can truly affect any child, anytime, anywhere - regardless of their gender or social or ethnic background and I would urge members of the public to familiarise themselves with the signs to look out for and ‘say something if you see something’. Your information really could make all the difference, so please report any concerns.”

David Lloyd, Police and Crime Commissioner for Hertfordshire, said: “We all have a responsibility in making sure that Hertfordshire is a safe place and that is particularly true when it comes to protecting children and young people. Boys and girls from all backgrounds can be vulnerable to predatory adults or to groups that seek to exploit them. 

“While we do not currently believe this is a widespread problem in the county, I am delighted to support this campaign because just one child victim in Hertfordshire is one too many. I would appeal to people to be vigilant and raise the alarm if they have any suspicions. Your report might be the one thing that helps a child find protection.”

Signs to look out for in a young person include:

·         Regularly missing from home or care and staying out all night

·         Physical injuries

·         Drug or alcohol misuse

·         Involvement in offending

·         Repeat sexually transmitted infections, pregnancies or terminations

·         Absent from school

·         Receipt of gifts from unknown sources

·         Recruiting others into exploitative situation

·         Poor mental health

·         Self-harm

·         Change in physical appearance

·         Friends with significantly older people

·         Evidence of sexual bullying and/or vulnerability through the internet and/or social networking sites.

·         Estranged from their family