Police have visited taxi offices and taxi ranks in North Somerset to raise awareness and educate staff on the signs of child exploitation.
Police officers, who work on Operation Topaz – Avon & Somerset’s child criminal and sexual exploitation disruption team – attempted to book taxis to Birmingham or London in cash while accompanied by volunteer cadets.
Out of 25 taxi offices visited, one noticed something wasn’t right with the situation but didn’t know how to safeguard the child. Another driver was able to recognise a child was being trafficked and put appropriate safeguarding measures in place.
The remainder failed to spot the signs of child exploitation and allowed the officers to book the taxis. The plain clothed officers immediately explained the purpose of the exercise after trying to book the taxi.
Taxi services had been offered training under Operation Makesafe – an awareness exercise developed by West Yorkshire Police– but few took part.
All services visited have now been offered training to provide their staff with the tools to be able to recognise child exploitation.
Child exploitation happens when a child under 18 is given things like money, phones, clothing, accommodation, and/or affection in exchange for performing a sexual act or dealing drugs. They are tricked by a person who has power over them because of their age or status in to believing there is a relationship.
Prevention Officer and Coordinator Androulla Nicolaou from Operation Topaz says: “Thousands of children and young people, some as young as 12, are exploited sexually and criminally every day in our communities. This operation, which is the first we have run with taxi services, is just one of the initiatives we’re using.
“Taxis are sometimes used by perpetrators to transport young people for the purpose of abuse and exploitation. As a driver or someone who works on a booking desk, you may overhear concerning conversations a young person is having on the phone.
“Drivers are in a unique position to be able to spot child exploitation from occurring, and managers of these services have a responsibility to ensure suitable measures are in place to keep children safe.
“Children travelling alone or with an adult that doesn’t appear to be family will be more obvious and easier to spot,” she said.