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The #lookcloser campaign will be launched from next week by The Childrens Society in partnership with UK police forces to raise awareness of child exploitation and abuse, with a particular focus on town centres and public spaces.

Young people are being exploited and are losing hope, but it’s not always obvious. The #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 if worried. 

Everyone in society has a role to play in protecting children and young people from abuse and exploitation. If we learn to spot the signs, we can help keep them safe and stop this abuse from happening.


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. 

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

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.  

James Simmonds-Read, National Programme Manager at The Children’s Society’s Prevention programme, which runs the #LookCloser campaign, said: ‘Criminals have adapted their methods to continue exploiting children under lockdown at a time when they may be feeling lonely, worried about family finances and have little respite from challenges or dangers at home.

‘Children may be particularly vulnerable to offers of cash, gifts, food, friendship and status by perpetrators right now – but this grooming later turns into coercion as criminals deploy terrifying threats and violence to ensure compliance with their demands.

‘Under lockdown, however, these young people and the risks they face are often less visible to professionals like teachers and social workers.

‘That’s why we are encouraging everyone who sees children in their daily lives to lookout for signs of exploitation and report any concerns to police so these young people can be identified and offered the help they desperately need.

‘Places like parks, supermarkets, banks, as well as taxis and public transport, are still in use under lockdown and may be used in the grooming and exploitation of children.

‘But we also want the wider public, as well as parents and carers, to be vigilant for signs of grooming through online platforms like gaming and social media. The internet is also a public space and risks of grooming have increased over the last year as children are spending more time indoors and on devices.’   

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.