Hertfordshire Constabulary shows support for National Child Exploitation Awareness Day
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Police officers and staff across Hertfordshire are lending a helping hand to National Child Exploitation Awareness Day tomorrow (Friday 18 March) by writing pledges on their palms to raise awareness of this crime type.
Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Halo team, made up of police officers and staff dedicated to detecting, disrupting and preventing child exploitation, are leading on the force’s support for the campaign by posting photos of their ‘Helping Hands’ on social media, with the hashtags #CEADay22 and #HelpingHands.
The team, primarily based at police headquarters in Welwyn Garden City, is led by Detective Inspector Derek Gray, 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 exploitation in Hertfordshire.
What is the definition of child exploitation?
Child Exploitation (CE) is a form of abuse that involves the manipulation and/or coercion of young people under the age of 18 into sexual, criminal or illegal financial activity. The Halo team is the constabulary’s response to tackling child exploitation in the county.
Detective Inspector Gray 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 – often because the perpetrators have groomed them into believing they are in a relationship. This problem has only been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic over the past two years, which has led to victims being harder to reach.
“But we are dedicated to building a trusted rapport with every vulnerable young person, so we can help them see what is happening before safeguarding them from further harm. In our eyes, one case of child exploitation is still too many.
“Despite the disturbing situations we deal with, our work also has the capacity to be enormously 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 at a time when they may feel unable to speak.”
What have we done to tackle CE in Hertfordshire?
The following are just a few examples of the proactive and preventative work carried out by the Halo team in the past 12 months:
In August 2021, two men were jailed for a combined total of 24 years after being found guilty of sexual offences against a vulnerable 14 year old girl in Watford. The sentencing was the result of a challenging and protracted inquiry led by the Halo team, who supported the victim throughout the investigation.
The court heard how the defendants were out socialising with a group of young people including the victim, when she wanted to change her outfit in the privacy of one of their cars. Instead, the perpetrators drove the victim to an unknown location in Watford before taking it in turns to rape her inside the vehicle.
The victim’s bravery in giving evidence and providing a statement meant her attackers were jailed for 12 years each. She has since received specialist support from the Independent Sexual Violence Adviser service to help her process what happened and begin to move forward.
Earlier this month (March 2022), two men were charged with a total of 12 offences in connection with the sexual exploitation of three teenage girls aged between 14 and 17.
It’s alleged the abuse took place in the areas of Welwyn Hatfield and North London over a period of 12 months, between December 2020 and January 2021.
The first man has been charged with six counts of arranging or facilitating the travel of another person with a view to exploitation, one count of engaging in penetrative sexual activity with a girl aged under 15, and one count of sexual assault on a female.
The second man has been charged with four counts of arranging or facilitating the travel of another person with a view to exploitation. The men, aged 25 and 23, are next scheduled to appear in court on Monday 4 April and Wednesday 13 April respectively.
The charges were achieved following a diligent investigation by the Halo team. All three victims have been safeguarded and updated on the investigation as it progresses through the judicial system.
The Halo team have been working in partnership with local hotels, including the Ibis in Stevenage town centre, to provide child exploitation awareness training sessions for staff. This equips them with the tools to know the signs to look out for, and how to report any concerns they have. The training received positive feedback and has already resulted in intelligence being shared directly with police.
Internally, they have carried out training sessions for call operators in the Force Communications Room at police headquarters, highlighting the importance of listening for, identifying, and recording signs that indicate a child or young person may be a victim of exploitation.
In addition, the team are planning further in-person awareness sessions for the county’s schools in order to educate students on the subject of child exploitation, how to spot the risks and where to get help if they need it.
Keep up to date with the team
You can follow the Halo team on their dedicated Twitter account @HertsPoliceHalo (opens in a new window), where they post regular updates on the vital partnership working they do, as well as regular information and material to help raise awareness of CE, plus how to identify and report it.
If you have concerns about a young person, you can:
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 (opens in a new window), Crimestoppers’ web resource for young people.
*The Hertfordshire Safeguarding Referrals Hub; where police officers work alongside their partners including Children’s Services and the NHS to share information and respond to referrals about young people that may be at risk.