Criminal Exploitation included gang crime and county lines. A gang may claim control over territory in a community, and engaging either individually or collectively in violent behaviour or other types of criminal activity. County lines is when gangs and organised crime networks groom and exploit children to sell drugs. They may make them travel across counties, and they use dedicated mobile phone 'lines' to supply drugs. Young people who are being criminally exploited often use public transport (train, buses and taxis) to get around. Read more below about our campaign to raise awareness of safeguarding on public transport.
Safeguarding Vulnerable Young People on Public Transport (Operation Henderson Campaign)
Operation Henderson, is a joint initiative being run by the Thurrock Local Safeguarding Children Partnership, Essex Safeguarding Children Board, Southend Safeguarding Children Partnership, British Transport Police, Essex Police, the Violence and Vulnerability Unit, Rail Operators, local councils and The Children's Society. It aims to raise awareness of the vulnerability of young people to exploitation and abuse at stations and transport networks in parts of Essex.
Research and local data have shown transport networks are used by vulnerable young people who may be at risk of exploitation, criminal exploitation and trafficking. Young people often gravitate towards stations because they are traditionally busy, anonymous places that also provide some form of shelter and access to food and drinks. A young person may use a station or form of public transport in an attempt to disappear. Bus and rail networks can also be used by offenders to traffic young people for the purpose of sexual and criminal exploitation.
Despite local restrictions, research has shown that young people vulnerable to exploitation are just as likely to be using trains, buses and taxis as they were prior to COVID. A young person travelling on their own during a lockdown is in fact an indicator of potential abuse. They may be unable to stop, for fear of punishment from their exploiters, and during a lockdown less people travelling means young people and their exploiters can travel around unchecked.
Spot the signs of exploitation
- Children who are alone and look frightened and maybe have no tickets or money to pay the fare
- Children/adults who look frightened in the company of other children or adults
- Children travelling along at night
- Those who do not look comfortable with adults they are travelling with
- Allows others to speak for them when addressed directly
- Those under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Children in school uniform during the school day
- Their physical appearance may show signs of injury, malnourishment and maybe unkempt
- They might seem unfamiliar with the local area, or not have a local accent
- They could be travelling during school hours or unusual hours (early in the morning, late at night)
- Are they travelling the same route on a regular basis (once or twice a week)?
- They could be receiving excessive texts or phone calls
- Are they deliberately avoiding authority figures such as police officers or railway staff?
- Some may be with older individuals who are purchasing tickets for them or giving them money for tickets.
The Police - If you have intelligence or wish to report concerns please call 101. If you think a child or young person is in immediate danger always call 999.
British Transport Police can be contacted by phone on 0800 40 50 40 or members of the public can report a crime or an incident that occurred on your train via text on 61016.
Crimestoppers - You can report concerns anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or www.crimestoppers-uk.org
Look Closer Campaign - a joint initiative with The Children's Society and British Transport Police encouraging members of the public to learn the signs of child exploitation and understand how to report it if worried.