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Safeguarding Vulnerable Children on Public Transport

Launching on Tuesday 1June, Operation Henderson is a partnership campaign to raise awareness of child exploitation at train and bus stations and transport networks in Essex.

Under the banner of Operation Henderson, the joint initiative is being run by Essex Safeguarding Children Board, Southend and Thurrock Safeguarding Children Partnerships alongside partners including British Transport Police, Essex Police, Essex Violence and Vulnerability Unit, The Railway Children, Reach Every Generation, rail operators and local councils.

Local outreach workers will try to speak with young people at stations around the County, talking to them about their experience of lockdown and how this has impacted them and their relationships. They’ll be raising awareness about signs of exploitation they may spot in their friends, and where to go if they need help (for themselves or their friends).

Research and local data have shown transport networks are used by vulnerable young people who may be at risk of sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation and trafficking. Young people often gravitate towards stations because they are anonymous places that also provide some form of shelter and access to food and drink. With restaurants and non-essential retail back open for business, footfall in and around stations will begin to increase.

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.

As well as members of the public, all staff working within and around a station, from ticket collectors to engineers, coffee shop workers to cleaners, play an important role in safeguarding vulnerable young people and so Operation Henderson will also look to raise awareness with local businesses.

David Archibald, ESCB Independent Chair/Facilitator on behalf of the Statutory Partners, said: “Child exploitation is a horrendous crime and one we can all play a part in helping to stop. Young people can be particularly vulnerable on trains, stations and transport networks due to the anonymity these places offer. I am pleased that we have been able to work with many partners across Essex to raise awareness of this and hope members of the public will support this campaign and report any concerns they may have.”

Dave King, Design Out Crime Officer, British Transport Police, said: “This is another example of collaborative work between the British Transport Police and  stakeholders with a shared aim of identifying vulnerable young people who may be involved in some form of Criminal Exploitation. This brings together some practical activity which will hopefully have a positive impact on a young person’s life and enhances the ‘Look Closer’ campaign.”

Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, said: “The Essex Violence and Vulnerability Unit and other partners are working tirelessly to support young people at risk of being exploited by Gangs and County Lines whilst Essex Police deal with the hardened criminals who prey on them. By educating the public on the ways young people are exploited on our transport systems, we hope more children will be protected from this dangerous form of exploitation. That way we can keep young people free from crime and stage early interventions to help steer them to a successful life course.”