Police across Sussex are working with hotels and boarding houses in a project to help keep young people safe.

Now that the hospitality industry is beginning to operate as normal again, and as lockdown lifts schools have also re-opened, there is an increased risk of perpetrators targeting students, looking to exploit them now that school children are no longer staying at home.

‘Operation Makesafe’ is a national project, looking to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation with employees ad management in the hotel and leisure industry. The initiative focuses on making sure that people working within these sectors are aware of the early warning signs of Child Exploitation and can report concerns to the police.

Starting on 18 October, PCSOs have begun a programme of engagement with local hotels and B&Bs, visiting locations and interacting with staff and management, and distributing briefing material that explains what they should be alert for and how to report it.

Detective Chief Inspector Mick Richards of Sussex Police said: “Child Exploitation (CE) takes on many different forms and it is everyone’s collective responsibility to help combat it. A better understanding of exploitation and risks will provide key opportunities to stop children becoming victims of exploitation. The disruption and prosecution of perpetrators is key in tackling exploitation.

“Victims of child criminal exploitation are typically male, aged 15 to 16 and living in urban areas. Perpetrators are in their late teens and involved in drug supply; some have been exploited as children themselves.

“Identified victims of child sexual abuse and exploitation continue to be predominantly female and are most frequently aged 13 to 15 although the percentage of male victims is slowly rising. Perpetrators are younger males under 30.

“Tackling exploitation and increasing the safety of women and girls in our community is a key priority area for us. Whilst Operation Makesafe is designed to respond to a specific national concern, there is no reason to believe that Sussex is significantly affected by this type of offending within the hotel and leisure industry at present. However it would be wrong to think it cannot and does not happen. This project will continue over time to help establish trusting relationships allowing for the sharing of information.

“Whilst the initial stages focus on working with the hotel and bed & breakfast sectors,  this will evolve over time, working in partnership to include Air BnBs, licenced taxi services and the wider night time economy.”

Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne said: “I am really encouraged by the positive and helpful response of the hospitality sector collaborating with the Op Makesafe campaign led by DCI Mick Richards.

“We need to shut down all opportunities for the sexual exploitation of children and women.”

Police are asking hoteliers and all those in the hospitality industry to watch out for things like:

  • Guests who appear secretive about their visit or guests who try to conceal who they are with
  • Guests refusing to leave credit card imprint and pay with cash
  • Guests requesting a room that is isolated
  • Numerous adults and/or young people coming to the hotel who do not appear to have a reason for being there, or high levels of visitors to the guest room
  • Guests who move in and out of the premises regularly at unusual times – a person may have arranged for others to visit the room where a child is being sexually exploited
  • Guests arriving and asking for a specific room number without knowing the name of the person who the room was booked under
  • Guests who don’t want their room cleaned or visited
  • Guests who do not have any luggage or ID
  • Young people with boyfriends/girlfriends who seem to be much older
  • A pre-paid bar tab to a room where children stay
  • Use of porn channels in rooms with children
  • Underage visitors who appear intoxicated
  • Teenagers loitering in public areas/external areas of premises
  • Guests with a local address renting a room
  • Bookings made in a different name to those who check-in / person speaking a different language to the person booking
  • Guest rooms with a lot of condoms/condom wrappers, drugs/drug paraphernalia (e.g. syringes, wraps, pipes, bongs, broken light bulbs, spoons, plastic bags)
  • Items missing from rooms (bedding, bin contents)
  • Signs of alcohol, drug, or substance misuse
  • A hospitality suite with businesspersons and young girls/boys (adults may be there for an event, conference, or meeting)
  • Guests who appear to be under the age of 25 delivering alcohol to rooms
  • Noise complaints
  • A young girl/boy who appears withdrawn or tries to hide their face or appears afraid, disorientated, or restricted from moving or communicating or acting under instruction
  • Young persons who appear overly made up
  • Individuals who appear to be monitoring public areas

The hotel should consider this action if those activities are suspected:

  • Consideration that any cash payment is supported by a PIN verified imprint of a card, and/or supported by valid ID e.g. driving licence passport
  • Document detailed descriptions of any suspected offenders
  • Document detailed descriptions of the children and young people who you are concerned about
  • Download and secure any CCTV
  • Secure any information regarding key card usage for the rooms
  • Secure any information regarding items left behind
  • Secure the hotel room(s) and do not allow access until police arrive
  • Report any relevant registration number plates
  • Record any observations that concern you in your incident logs
  • Where disruption or delay has resulted in the guest(s) leaving where accommodation was refused, guidance should include the hotel alerting neighbouring hotels as part of localised ‘Hotel Watch’ or similar and sharing vital information: names, description, vehicle details, etc.
  • Recommendations that the hotel always obtain ID / verification

Where possible delay access to the room e.g. create delays: room not ready, take a seat, enjoy a complimentary drink, and engage child in natural conversation. The overriding message should be to do everything possible not to let them into the room

If there is any suspicion of inappropriate activity the police should be called and the circumstances related to the call taker making it clear that the safety of a young person is at risk. Hotel staff should quote ‘Operation Makesafe’ when calling the police, as this will trigger an appropriate response.

All police forces have a plan in place to deal with calls from hotels around suspect activity with children.

For further information about Operation Makesafe see the Sussex Police website, which includes the briefing material being distributed to the leisure industry.

If you’re concerned about someone’s welfare and think they may be being exploited, please report it to us online or call 101

You can also contact independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or via crimestoppers-uk.org

In an emergency always call 999.

Background:

Child Sexual Exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.

Child criminal exploitation is an element of County Lines which is a term used to describe gangs or organised criminal groups involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more areas using dedicated mobile phone lines. They are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs and will often use coercion, intimidation, violence and weapons.