TAXI drivers across the borough are joining the fight against child sexual exploitation.
As part of the region-wide See Me, Hear Me campaign, thousands of Hackney carriage and private hire drivers are supporting police and local authorities in a bid to help keep local children safe.
Each driver has been given information about child sexual exploitation (CSE), the warning signs to look out for and what to do and who to contact if they are concerned about a child.
They have also been provided with ‘we need your eyes and ears’ postcards which highlight tell-tale signs such as noticing strange behaviour in a child or seeing young people or groups of men being dropped off at certain locations.
Stephen Rimmer, West Midlands lead for tackling CSE, said that while nationally taxi drivers have been highlighted as a problem factor in relation to children and young people at risk of abuse and exploitation, the police and authorities in the West Midlands want them to be trained to part of the solution – not the problem.
He said: “They can spot predatory behaviour and vulnerability, and report concerns quickly and effectively.
“Just like hotels, taxis are a service industry on the frontline of this threat and must respond accordingly, armed with the right information and supported by police and local authority professionals.”
CSE is a crime that can affect any child, anytime, regardless of their social or ethnic background and involves perpetrators grooming their victims in various ways, such as in person, via mobiles or online, to gain their trust before emotionally and sexually abusing them.
And the abuse can take place in many forms, whether through a seemingly consensual relationship, or a young person being forced to have sex in return for some kind of payment, such as drugs, money, gifts or even protection and affection.
Describing Child Sexual Exploitation as a ‘horrendous crime’, Coun Ken Meeson, Solihull’s Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, said it was important everyone knows how they can play their bit in helping to protect children and young people.
He added: “The nature of their job means that taxi drivers can be our ‘eyes and ears’ as they go about their day to day work.
“By providing them with the information they need so they can recognise the signs of potential exploitation, they can play a vital role in spotting and reporting suspicious behaviour.
“We want them to help protect children by being vigilant, being aware of the signs they need to look out for and knowing how to report anything suspicious.”
Launched in June 2014, the See Me, Hear Me campaign joins Solihull, Dudley, Wolverhampton, Sandwell, Walsall, Coventry and Birmingham councils together with West Midlands Police to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation.
Anyone who is concerned about the safety of a young person should call West Midlands Police on 101, speak in confidence to Barnardo’s on 0121 3595333 or call 999 in an emergency.
Childline also have counsellors available online at www.childline.org.uk
More information about child sexual exploitation can be found online at www.seeme-hearme.org.uk