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Spotting and reporting signs of exploitation

Young people are being exploited and are losing hope, but it's not always obvious. Our award-winning #LookCloser campaign, developed in partnership with the National County Lines Co-ordination Centre and British Transport Police, encourages everyone to learn the signs of child exploitation and how to report it. 

Look Closer campaign

We're focusing 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. 

If we learn to spot the possible signs of a young person being exploited, we can help to keep them safe and stop this abuse from happening.

What is exploitation and where does it happen

boy standing in train station alone

Visible in public

Young people are groomed into exploitation and abuse both online and offline. They may be sexually abused, forced into labour, made to launder money for criminals through their own bank accounts, or coerced into committing crimes like transporting drugs or stealing from shops.

Buses, trains, trams and coaches are used to facilitate the movement of a young person when they're being exploited. Fast food outlets and roadside services may be used for amenities and food stops. Hotels, salons and car washes may be places where exploitation happens 'behind closed doors'.

exploitation in lockdown

During Covid-19, these services may be reduced or closed however there are still places like parks, supermarkets, social media and online gaming environments where exploitation may be visible. For each child or young person who is being exploited, there may be members of the public and staff who are in a position to spot and protect them.  

Knowing what to look for

Signs of exploitation aren't obvious. This can be a barrier to identifying young people at risk or being exploited. #LookCloser highlights that any young person can be a victim. Although they may not 'appear vulnerable' or 'act like a victim', it is our role to look closer to identify and protect them from further harm. 

    Signs of child exploitation

    • 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?

    Do you work in these industries?

    If something doesn't feel right, don't wait, report it

    Call the police on 101 or 999 in an emergency

    You can also report to the police online. Only report your concerns when it is safe for you to do so, even if this is after the event that your concerns initially arose.  Do not attempt to intervene yourself. 

    Text the British Transport Police on 61016

    If you are on a train, you can text the British Transport Police. Information on routes of travel, addresses, appearance, and behaviour of a child can all help to protect young people. 

    Call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111

    If you have information on child exploitation and abuse or suspect it may be happening but want to remain completely anonymous, you can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers online or on the phone.

    Call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000

    The NSPCC helpline is staffed by trained professionals who can provide expert advice and support if you’re concerned about a child. 

    You can download our #LookCloser poster and leaflet here.