Public urged to join campaign to protect vulnerable children across West Yorkshire (15 Oct 2016)

A girl in her early teens boards your train at Leeds station. It's 11am on a week day during term time. She's on her own and isn't in school uniform.  

A young boy is hanging around Bradford bus station late at night. An elderly man approaches him and hands him alcohol, cigarettes and a mobile phone.  

What do you do? 

We understand it can be difficult to speak out but we're urging passengers and the public to look up from their papers, phones and tablets to see if there's a child who might need help.  

The call is part of a joint week of action, during Safeguarding Week (17 to 23 October), between West Yorkshire Police, British Transport Police , the Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire and Local Authorities in all five districts in West Yorkshire who are working together to raise awareness about child sexual exploitation and identify children at risk. 

We find that the bus and rail networks are often used by young people who may be vulnerable to this type of crime. As part of the week of action we will be taking the opportunity to educate them with information about the signs and risks in the hope that this will arm them with the knowledge to protect themselves from being susceptible to the risk of grooming. 

Officers will be working together to patrol transport networks across the county, speaking to young people about the dangers of child sexual exploitation and explaining what they should do if they have concerns for themselves or a friend.  

We will have large numbers of officers working across the towns and cities of West Yorkshire through the week, but people should be reassured that they will be there to give advice and information, rather than as a cause for concern. 

In a bid to increase reporting around vulnerable children on transport networks, officers and rail and station staff have been giving a series of inputs - developed with the charity Railway Children -to spot the signs and make them aware of what they can do if they are worried about a vulnerable child. 

Superintendent Darren Minton from West Yorkshire Police said: "We have dedicated officers in Safeguarding Units across the county who are specially trained to deal with child sexual exploitation and will always put the needs of the victim first. All reports of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) will be taken seriously and dealt with sensitively. 

"We also want to reassure these young people that we are here to listen if they have concerns or any questions. Any young person can become a victim of CSE and no one will be judged or blamed for anything that has happened.  

"The victim is never at fault and our specialist officers will always be sensitive to the needs and wishes of the young person concerned.  

"Likewise, even if the report of suspected grooming turns out to be nothing, that's ok. We would rather look into all reports than not be told because someone is worried that they have been mistaken." 

Leeds Inspector Caroline Farrow from British Transport Police said: "Young people often gravitate towards train stations and transport hubs because they are busy, anonymous places which help them escape their current situation or meet someone they shouldn't.  

"While there is no information to suggest abuse or exploitation is taking place specifically at stations across West Yorkshire, children do come to our attention and this can be a sign something is going on elsewhere.  

"As the new term gets underway, and it becomes easier to spot children who should be at school or who are out late at night, we are asking passengers and staff to be aware of young people who might need help. 

"They may be travelling on their own, appear upset or with someone older than them who does not appear to be a relative. 

"We all have a responsibility to protect vulnerable children in our community and I would encourage people to be on the lookout for young people who might need help and report any concerns they may have so we can make sure they don't come to any harm."  

Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner said: "Safeguarding vulnerable people is an absolute priority and will feature prominently in the new Police and Crime Plan.  

"This latest campaign represents truly joined up partnership working which is exactly what is needed to keep our communities safe. 

"I urge everyone to have a look at the campaign and bear the signs in mind when you see something that you feel just isn't quite right. To echo Superintendent Minton's comment, we would rather get reports that turn out to be nothing than miss a chance to help someone." 

As part of the campaign, a poster and social media campaign using the #WYSafeguardingWk is being rolled out across the county.  

On Friday 21 October from 7am both forces will also be tweeting all reports of safeguarding incidents and child sexual exploitation incidents over a 24 hour period.  

For more information about child sexual exploitation please visit www.westyorkshire.police.uk/cse

To speak to a specialist officers call 101, but if a crime is in progress or there is a danger to life always call 999.

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© Copyright West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner 2018