Child sexual exploitation

How to get help if you think a child or young person is being sexually exploited.

Children silhouettes

Are you worried about a child or teenager?

  • Do they stay out overnight?
  • Have they been missing from home?
  • Do they skip school?
  • Have they come home with money, clothes, jewellery or a mobile phone they can’t account for?
  • Do they have an older boyfriend or girlfriend you are concerned about?
  • Are you worried they are using drugs or alcohol?
  • Have they lost contact with family and friends of their own age?
  • Do they lack self-esteem?
  • Are they secretive about where they go and who they see?
  • Do they chat to people online they have never met?
  • Are you worried about unsafe sexual behavior?

If this sounds familiar, your child could be at risk of sexual exploitation by older adults. Taking risks is part of growing up, but sometimes children get out of their depth.

Child sexual exploitation is a crime – the police and social services will act to stop it happening.

If you are still worried call our confidential helpline on 01865 335 276.

What is sexual exploitation?

Sexual exploitation can involve swapping sexual favours for drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and other presents. Or it may be having sex for money with several adults. Youngsters may feel they must have sex because an adult gives them something, or because they feel threatened or frightened.

Some young people may want to have sex because they think the adult is their boyfriend. In reality they are being used for sex, and the ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ may pass them on to other people too (remember - sexual abusers can be women as well as men).

What can you do?

If you are worried about a child or young person, you must do something - but it may not be easy to find out what is going on from them.

The child or young person may have been told not to talk about what they are doing, or threatened with violence. Or they may think they have an exciting grown-up life with a boyfriend or girlfriend, which they don’t want to end.

Try to find a time to talk to them calmly about how they feel. They may open up and admit they are unhappy about a part of their life. They may even admit they need help.

But if they won’t talk to you, please do not let the matter drop. Is there someone else that you both trust that could talk to them - a grandparent, uncle or family friend, or someone from your religion or local community? Tell the trusted person about your concerns and ask them to have a word.

There are specialists who can advise you on what to do next. They can also talk to any child or young person themselves. Telephone 01865 335 276.

If you think a child is at immediate risk call 999.

How does it happen?

We know from experience that some people target young people and draw them into abusive sexual relationships. This is how it sometimes happens:

  • Older adults show them a lot of interest and affection at the beginning and make them feel special.
  • Sometimes they ask groups of young people to come back to their house or go to parties.
  • They are offered drugs and alcohol and a place to chill out.
  • They may get presents like clothes, a mobile phone, or money to buy alcohol and cigarettes.
  • After they have gained the youngster’s trust and affection, things change.
  • They will ask for sexual favours for themselves or other people, in return for alcohol, drugs, presents, money - all the things they started giving for free.
  • They stop being nice and can become threatening or violent.

Video - can you recognise the signs?

The video below is designed to help childcare professionals and police spot the early signs of group-associated grooming. It was produced by the Association of Chief Police Offices (ACPO) and the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) and features Eastenders actress, Shona McGarty:

Video: the sexual exploitation of children - can you recognise the signs?

Last reviewed
17 July 2013
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