A policing operation saw young cadets join neighbourhood, response and specialists safety officers ‘test’ a dozen hotels in the city on their responses to an adult guest attempting to rent a room with a child.
Operation Lavender, which was held last Friday night, was led by officers from the Child Centred Policing Team and made use of Plymouth Police Cadets who are young volunteers.
The aim of the operation was to highlight the risks of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and help hotel staff learn more about what they can do to tackle the national issue.
The ‘test purchase’ saw two teams of officers in plain clothes, accompanied by a cadet who was under the age of 16, visit 12 hotels in the city to see if staff would challenge adults attempting to book rooms to carry out possible CSE offences.
Police have told PlymouthLive that 80 percent of the hotels did not acknowledge any concerns.
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A police spokesperson said: “CSE is a form of child abuse in which victims are manipulated or forced into taking part in sexual activity, often in return for attention, affection, money, drugs, alcohol or accommodation. It can also involve violence, coercion and intimidation, with threats of physical harm or humiliation.
“Plymouth police’s city centre neighbourhood team and the Child Centred Policing Team set up the operation where plain clothed officers and young police cadets – who were clearly under the age of 16 – visited hotels together and tried to book a room in the hope that reception staff would recognise the signs, refuse to rent out the room and contact the police.
“The operation was not about catching people out but to encourage awareness and help local venues to better learn how to protect and safeguard young people who may be vulnerable and at risk of child sexual exploitation.
“We did identify some good practice but have also identified opportunities to further explore education and training.
“Partner agencies within the Plymouth Safeguarding Children Partnership welcomed the operation and a report of the findings will be used to help the partnership determine its response moving forward.”
The spokesperson said that the operation replicated similar operations carried out by other forces in the country – including the Metropolitan Police in London and force areas covering places like Rotherham, where there have been notable instances of long-term CSE.
In each force area similar figures were revealed, highlighting how it was a national issue rather than just a local one.
The spokesperson said: “Neighbourhood officers from Charles Cross police station went into the hotels afterwards and spoke with staff, leaving contact details and literature about the CSE and what to look out for. They emphasised that staff were not in trouble or that they did something wrong – our aim is very much about education and encouraging staff to be more aware and alert to the issues surround child sexual exploitation as well as where to get help.”
Devon and Cornwall Police were amongst the first forces in the country to relaunch the cadet programme and in 2009 Plymouth officers oversaw the creation of the scheme. Around 30 youngsters signed up from an initial 150 applicants who came forward.
The cadets soon got a name for themselves assisting with a number of community events, including fundraising and awareness campaigns. Some cadets were also involved in assisting with victims of rouge traders by tackling their overgrown gardens.
If you suspect a person of carrying out child sexual exploitation, or think someone you know has been a victim, or may be soon, you can report your concerns in any of the following ways – call the non-emergency number 101; if you are deaf or hard of hearing use the textphone service: Textphone: 67101 sms/text number for the deaf/hard hearing/speech impaired; telephone 18001 101 Minicom/Textphone; visit a police station during opening hours and speak to someone in person; call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.
If you believe someone is in immediate danger or harm call 999 now.
You can find out more about CSE online at dc.police.uk/CSE