Thirty-six hotels were visited by undercover police and young cadets in Southwark and Lambeth as part of an operation raising awareness of child sexual exploitation.
In late September and early October, plain clothes officers and young cadets visited the hotels to test whether alarm bells rang for staff in certain scenarios.
Many of the venues had previously received police training on how to look out for child sexual exploitation, and what to do if they had concerns about their visitors.
In the undercover operation, attempts were made by a plain-clothed officer, who was with a young cadet at the time, to book a room.
Often they were visibly carrying large amounts of alcohol and attempted to pay in cash, refusing to provide identification.
Police were testing whether reception staff would refuse to rent the rooms and contact the police referencing ‘Makesafe’ the code word for child sexual exploitation they had been trained to use.
Chief Superintendent Helen Millichap, the Met’s lead for child sexual expoloitation, said: “We know that perpetrators may use hotels to commit offences, which is why Operation Makesafe was initially introduced.
“Makesafe is all about awareness raising and has received wide recognition at a national level, helping us all to keep children safe.
“We know that child sexual exploitation is likely to be under reported, so we rely on people being alert and well informed about some of the ways that children could be groomed.
“We would far rather someone alerted us and for it to be a false alarm, than for us to miss a chance to investigate.
“This operation is based on that principle so that even if this type of crime might be very rare for a hotel to see, they are sure about what to do.
“This is about making sure that the training implemented is being put into practice; and what has been established during previous similar operations, is that there are occasions when the correct action is not always being taken.
“We have been working closely with those within the hotel industry, who understand the importance of the issue and are keen to support our efforts.
“This is not an operation designed to catch people out or blame these venues. We want to encourage awareness in a powerful way.
“Where the response is not what we would expect, it offers us the opportunity to provide refresher training and reiterate the warning signs.
“By carrying out these operations we are keeping the issue fresh in the minds of those who can take positive action, with a view to preventing offences and safeguarding young people.”
Officers from City of London also took part in the operation, visiting a number of hotels within the Square Mile.
Detective Inspector Anna Rice, from the City of London Police’s public protection unit, said: “We all have a role to play in keeping children and young people safe from sexual exploitation.
“The City of London Police will continue to work collaboratively with the Metropolitan Police to provide a consistent approach to tackling child sexual exploitation and raise awareness amongst businesses and the general public.
“We would always encourage people to trust their instincts and get in contact with the police at the first available opportunity if they have any concerns.
“Together we can identify, protect and safeguard those who may be at risk.”
Child sexual exploitation is under-reported as the children involved often don’t realise they are victims. They could be manipulated into sexual activity by adults or another young person taking advantage of an imbalance of power in their relationships. Often, drugs, alcohol, money and gifts such as cigarettes and mobile phones, and supposed affection, is given in return for sex or sexual activities.
Shockingly, police say in the last three years, the number of child sexual exploitation-linked offences has almost doubled, from 602 to 1,107; whilst the number of children assessed as being at possible risk is 40% higher.