An operation to raise awareness among hotels in Bridgwater of child sexual exploitation (CSE) has proved a success.
Plain clothed officers attempted to book a room at a number of hotels in the town without identification and requesting to pay in cash while accompanied by one of our volunteer cadets who were all aged between 14 and 16.
Of the 11 visited, 10 refused to let out a room and six even phoned us to report concerns of suspected CSE.
It was the second time we had carried out the exercise having initially been disappointed by the results.
In March, 10 of the 13 hotels to receive an unannounced visit agreed to book out a room without asking any questions.
The recent positive results came after we provided training under Operation Makesafe, a campaign developed by the Metropolitan Police Service which we’ve adapted to suit our force area.
The training gives guidance to businesses around how to spot the signs of CSE and what action they should take.
The visits were conducted by officers working on Operation Topaz – our partnership approach to tackling CSE which sees agencies share intelligence with the aim of identifying offenders and supporting victims at an earlier stage.
Superintendent Liz Hughes, force lead for Offences against Children, said: “We were left shocked after the first set of visits by the willingness of some hotels to book out rooms in the circumstances.
“As such, I am really pleased with the results the second time round. Our training has clearly made a difference and hotel staff now have the knowledge and confidence to report their suspicions.
“CSE victims often do not recognise they are being exploited and it’s everyone’s responsibility to be alert to the possible signs and to report their concerns.
“We will now look to offer training to more hotels and carry out the exercise in other locations across the force area.”
Supt Hughes said: “I’d like to thank the volunteer police cadets who gave up their time to support us with this operation along with our partners who helped facilitate the training.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said: “I was alarmed when we received the results from Operation Topaz and I’m sure it was a wake-up call that businesses and organisations need to get better at spotting the warning signs of CSE.
“I’m delighted with the outcomes of the latest exercise and this shows we need to continue to work closely in partnership and be the ones who ask, ask again and keep asking so we can stop the exploitation of our children.”
To report concerns to the police call 101 or complete a secure online reporting form at www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/report.
In an emergency, or if a child is in immediate danger, always call 999.
For information about the signs of CSE, alongside links to help and support, visit www.avonandsomerset.police.uk/cse.
Advice, support services and a downloadable leaflet for partners is also available via www.thisisnotanexcuse.org/child-sexual-exploitation.