New campaign aims to shine a light on exploitation in Bedfordshire


A major new campaign has been launched bringing together different organisations to speak with one voice against violence, exploitation and organised crime in Bedfordshire.

Bedfordshire Against Violence and Exploitation (BAVEX) will raise awareness around things like modern slavery, cuckooing and child sexual exploitation in the county.

The project, which launches on Thursday, March 18, 2021, national child exploitation awareness day, has worked with a series of different groups in Bedfordshire to spread its messages as far as possible.

To mark the launch, a video outlining six examples of exploitation by organised crime in the county is being released, in the hope it will compel communities to come forward with concerns.

The video was produced by Luton-based creative agency Clearhead. It also forms the basis of an online pledge people are being encouraged to share on social media to support the BAVEX campaign by shining a light on exploitation.

An artistic mural has also been created with young people in the county to reflect their views of what violence and exploitation means to them.

Artist Daniel Weatheritt designed the infographic in collaboration with young people from all three local authorities in the county as well as local charity Link to Change, which works with child victims of exploitation.

The infographic will appear on Centrebus, Grant Palmer and Stagecoach buses throughout the county over the coming weeks.

An ad van will be at locations across Bedfordshire today displaying messages to the public, with professionals who work to combat exploitation on hand to speak to people about these issues.

This includes a specialist session with young people at Bedford College.

new website also goes live today, detailing the partnership response to different types of exploitation in Bedfordshire and how people can get help.

You can download all of the campaign materials via the Our Campaign section of the BAVEX website.

BAVEX is backed by a wide range of different organisations in the county, both statutory as well as charities.

As well as the police, this includes the Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Bedford Borough Council, Central Bedfordshire Council, Luton Council, the Bedfordshire and Luton Clinical Commissioning Groups, the Bedfordshire Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU), Azalea, Crimestoppers, Link to Change, the Luton Homeless Partnership and the Modern Slavery Helpline.

Kathryn Holloway, Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “When it comes to the exploitation of children and vulnerable adults by criminals, police simply can’t achieve an end to this insidious behaviour – taking over lives and terrorising victims – on their own.

“This fantastic project means Bedfordshire’s safeguarding services are genuinely working together to spot the signs of exploitation and reach out to victims.

“What’s more, the down to earth, accessible and hard hitting Youtube content that accompanies this work explains the many facets of these crimes – taking place right here in Bedfordshire – in a way that anyone seeing it should be able to understand.

“I highly recommend a viewing and sharing it as widely as possible on your social media and with family and friends.”

Lisa Robinson, the exploitation lead for Bedfordshire’s VERU, said: “Violence and exploitation can cause lifelong emotional and physical trauma for victims and their families, so combatting and tackling this is a priority for us in Bedfordshire.

“We need to continue to work in partnership to safeguard victims, bring offenders to justice and help keep everyone safe from harm.

“We all need to work together to tackle violence and exploitation in Bedfordshire.”

Councillor James Valentine, Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services and Education at Bedford Borough Council, said: “Exploitation can cause lifelong emotional and physical trauma for victims and their families.

“Bedford Borough Council is extremely supportive of this latest awareness campaign as it will highlight how exploitation can develop, helping people to identify the signs so action can be taken.

“Everyone can play a part in helping to keep young people and communities in Bedford Borough safe, whether at home, in care, online or just out and about.”

Councillor Sue Clark, Central Bedfordshire Council’s Executive Member for Families, Education and Children, said: “Working in partnership and with our communities is key to ending exploitation and BAVEX is a really important step in continuing to do that.

“It sends a strong message that together, we will continue to ensure our communities are kept safe for our residents and that our children are safe from harm.”

Councillor Mahmood Hussain, portfolio holder with responsibility for children and young people at Luton Council, said: “The safety and welfare of children and young people in our communities is vital.

“We are committed to fighting child sexual exploitation and child exploitation and to support our vulnerable children and young people who are subjected to them.

“We will work together with our partners to raise awareness about exploitation and encourage our residents to come forward with any concerns they might have.”

Detective Chief Superintendent Nick Bellingham, our serious and organised crime lead, said: “A variety of factors, such as Bedfordshire’s transport links and population demographics, mean the county suffers disproportionately from organised crime.

“You may not realise it, but many of us will see the damaging and corrosive impact of organised crime in our communities every day.

“Drug addiction, serious violence, anti-social behaviour, burglary, shoplifting – much of this can be traced back to organised criminal activity and the exploitation that comes with it.

“Building knowledge of these issues among all of our communities and encouraging them to come forward with concerns is a key part of our strategy to rid organised crime from our county.”

Detective Chief Inspector Elaine Cook, from our Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and Missing Persons Team, said: “We are a dedicated team of officers and a CSE coordinator who safeguard young people living in our county from the risk of child sexual exploitation though intervention, prevention, education and disruption, working alongside our three local authorities and partners from health, education and charities within the county to ensure that our young people are safe and aware of the mechanisms used by perpetrators and the risks involved. 

“It is imperative that we all work together to stop these crimes from happening, which I am delighted to see from this new campaign.”

Hayley Brown, the CEO of charity Link to Change, said: “We firmly believe that we need to be proactive in engaging with children and young people in prevention, as this is the best form of protection against exploitation.

“The commitment by all these different agencies to share our collective knowledge and expertise in tackling exploitation and reaching out into our communities is brilliant to see.

“We really hope this campaign can raise awareness of these issues across Bedfordshire and help prevent people from suffering exploitation.”

Matthew Bushnell, the CEO of Mary Seacole housing association, said: “Tackling exploitation is a key part of what we do to protect vulnerable people in our communities.

“We work with lots of different agencies to do this as no one single organisation has all the answers working on their own.

“By working together through projects like BAVEX and the VERU, we can achieve so much more and make a massive difference to people across Bedfordshire.”

Ruth Robb, the CEO of Azalea and chair of the Luton Against Sexual Exploitation partnership, said: “Sadly we work with far too many women who have suffered trauma and abuse due to sexual exploitation.

“Educating the public about these issues, what to look out for and the true nature of these crimes is an absolute must if we are to prevent them from happening in the first place.

“We are proud partners of the BAVEX campaign and would encourage everyone to help all the different agencies involved to shine a light on exploitation.”

Alex Lawrence, founder and chief creative officer at Clearhead, said: “We hope our collaboration with Bedfordshire Police and their partners will help raise awareness and support for this pioneering project through the power of this animation and story.

“We are proud that this is a local partnership, strengthening our connection and being able to support our community and those whom serve it.”

You can watch the main BAVEX campaign video on the VERU’s YouTube channel.

For more information about the campaign visit the BAVEX website.