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Devon & Cornwall Police and Dorset Police launch campaign to raise awareness of online child exploitation

Campaign uses new animations to show children what they should do if they are contacted by criminals online

Devon & Cornwall Police and Dorset Police are working together to raise awareness of the risks to young people online and to encourage them to talk to a trusted adult if they are approached.

The campaign, called “Looks sus? Tell us!”, featured a series of animations which have been created to be shared on different social media platforms to raise awareness of the early signs of grooming. They are also designed to encourage children and young people to be suspicious of, and to report, particular kinds of approaches on social media or via other channels such as online gaming chat. There is also an animation aimed at parents to encourage them to have those difficult conversations with their children.

Alongside the animations, campaign web pages are being launched with more information and sources of help and advice for both young people and parents/guardians or professionals who work with children.

A/Superintendent Jim Beashel of Dorset Police explains: “We know offenders use social media platforms to target and groom young people for exploitation. So we thought we would use the same channels to try to talk to young people about what an approach from a criminal might look like, and what to do if they were worried.

“We have called the campaign “Looks sus? Tell us!” because we want children to know they can report these things to us and we can keep them safe. But we are also conscious of the fact that if children are scared, they are unlikely to tell the police in the first instance. But it is important that they talk to someone so, if they don’t want to get in touch with us, they should talk to an adult they trust.”

The campaign focuses particularly on child sexual exploitation (CSE) where the NSPCC reports the most commonly used social media channel is Instagram. However there are overlaps with other kinds of online grooming, to recruit for county lines for example, so one of the animations shows this kind of grooming too.

Despite the subject matter, the tone of the animations is kept light with cute, colourful characters. The “child” character is not depicted as a victim, instead their quick thinking helps solve the problem. However, the aminations do carry a serious message; that you never know who you’re talking to online and that an online “friend” may not be who you think they are.

T/Detective Superintendent Matt Bourne of Devon & Cornwall Police said: “Because we understand the challenges a young person might face in disclosing any unwanted attention online, we have also created an animation for parents and guardians as part of the campaign to encourage them to have those difficult conversations with their children.

“A number of organisations have put together help and advice for parents in that situation and we have linked to these on our campaign web pages. It is important that if adults are informed of these kinds of approached to children, that they let us know as we can help to keep children safe.”