“We regularly find girls who are from totally different areas of the city, different schools, who know each other well. After some investigation it usually transpires that they share the same ‘boyfriends’. This is a frightening development as it appears that these ‘boyfriends’ or perpetrators are no longer satisfied with abusing one young person at a time – they are working with groups of girls or boys on a much wider scale.” ‘Ella’, a service manager from Barnardos, in Barnardo’s Puppet on a String report.

Most paedophiles operate alone, but child trafficking – and trafficking covers all instances of moving a victim, no matter how short a distance – is an offence that connects offenders together. In some cases, an initial relationship with one offender could escalate into these young victims being passed to abusers across the country, and often harassed into exposing their friends to the same treatment.

Breaking up these criminal associations is a key plank of police efforts to stop these crimes. Using software already available to police, UCL Security and Crime Science researchers demonstrate a way for police officers to find weak spots in the offenders’ network and hit them hard. Hear their work in their own words in the video below.

Network graphs show how agents are connected and the strength of the connections between them, and have been used by investigators for many years to visualise links between subjects of investigation. Researchers Eleanor Cockbain, Helen Brayler and Professor Laycock from SCS extended this technique to connect not only offenders, but also victims. They analysed these patterns to find which participants had the greatest number of links, how quickly news travelled round the network, and which people were ‘gate-keepers’ whose elimination would bring down the web. Using this information, police can determine the most effective targets and what sort of interventions would cut them off. Cockbain, Brayley and Laycock’s work is already being adopted by police forces working on this problem.

Image: Juliet Aaltonen as Jade and Junade Khan as Raz from the film ’My Dangerous Loverboy’ by Virginia Heath (www.mydangerousloverboy.com).

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