Hertfordshire Police are shining a light on child exploitation ahead of national awareness day

The Helping Hands campaign aims to spread the word on the signs to look out for and how to report it

Wednesday, 17th March 2021, 12:14 pm
Updated Wednesday, 17th March 2021, 12:18 pm

Police officers and staff across Hertfordshire are lending a helping hand to the National Child Exploitation Awareness Day this week by writing pledges on their palms to raise awareness.

National Child Exploitation Awareness Day, on Thursday, March 18, is highlighted by the National Working Group’s (NWG’s) Helping Hands campaign, which aims to spread the word on the signs to look out for and how to report it.

Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Halo team, made up of police officers and staff dedicated to detecting, disrupting and preventing child exploitation, is leading the force’s support for the campaign by posting photos of their ‘Helping Hands’ on social media, with the hashtags #CEADay21 and #HelpingHands.

Deputy Chief Constable Michelle Dunn who is showing her support by taking part in the awareness day’s Helping Hands campaign

The team is led by Detective Inspector Gemma Badat, who is supported by two Detective Sergeants, four Detective Constables, four Police Constables and a Child Exploitation Disruption Co-ordinator.

The co-ordinator works with partner organisations in the Hertfordshire Safeguarding Referrals Hub to deliver a multi-agency response to tackling child sexual exploitation in Hertfordshire.

Detective Inspector Badat said: “Child exploitation is a very challenging crime to investigate as it often goes under-reported due to vulnerable victims not seeing themselves as such, because the offenders have groomed them into believing they are in a serious relationship.

“This means our investigations can often be protracted and require perseverance in building a trusted rapport with a vulnerable young person so we can safeguard them from further harm.

"Despite the distressing situations we come across, our work also has the capacity to be extremely rewarding. We are dedicated to safeguarding children and young people, as well as disrupting and bringing to justice the perpetrators of child exploitation.

“That is why it is so important for us to come together with colleagues and partners on National Child Exploitation Awareness Day, and help give young people a voice when they may feel unable to speak.”

The following case studies are examples of work carried out by the Halo team in the past 12 months:

- A man initially came to police attention initially on suspicion of an offence of grooming a 17-year-old in care. Whilst the team were unable to prove the grooming, a Child Abduction Warning Notice (CAWN) was proactively issued, prohibiting him from taking the victim away from their care setting. However, he ignored this and was later arrested on suspicion of abducting a child in care. This was only possible because the CAWN had been put in place, and the offender was later given a suspended prison sentence as a result.

- The team was alerted to reports of sexual exploitation and abuse involving three child victims from Hertfordshire. Adult offenders were allegedly collecting the children and conveying them to an address in London, before giving them drugs and alcohol and committing sexual offences. Halo worked with colleagues in the Metropolitan Police Service and children's services to safeguard the victims. The team was able to identify the offenders and a series of warrants were executed at several addresses in the London area. Multiple arrests were made on suspicion of child sexual exploitation offences and the investigation remains ongoing.

- The team was made aware of a child protection concern involving a teenage girl who was using social media platforms to share indecent images of herself. The team was able to confirm that she was in a sexual relationship with a 21-year-old male, who had previously been served with a CAWN in relation to the victim. Faced with the evidence of the CAWN along with the phone data, the offender was arrested and later pleaded guilty before being imprisoned.

You can follow the Halo team on its dedicated Twitter account @HertsPoliceHalo, where it posts regular updates on the vital partnership working it does, as well as regular information and material to help raise awareness of CSE plus how to identify and report it.

If you have concerns about a young person you can report them online, or call 101. Please provide as much information as possible.

If you don’t feel comfortable speaking directly with police, you can report information anonymously online to Fearless, Crimestoppers’ web resource for young people.

Alternatively you can make a referral via children’s services Hertfordshire County Council website.