Sexual exploitation is another form of abuse that affects thousands of children and young people across the UK every year. It is an illegal activity by people who have power over young people and use it to sexually abuse them.
This can involve a broad range of exploitation, from seemingly ‘consensual’ relationships and informal exchanges of sex for attention, accommodation, gifts or cigarettes, through to very serious organised crime.
As a parent or carer, it is often hard to tell the difference between difficult teenage behaviour and the signs of sexual exploitation. The more information you have about the dangers and risks that children may face, the better equipped you’ll be to keep them safe.
Resources and advice
Barnardos have produced a leaflet for parents and carers and a leaflet for young people to help them spot the signs of sexual exploitation or register for a free online course (20 to 30 mins). Further support and information for parents is available at Pace UK and Parents Protect who also have a leaflet for parents and carers on preventing sexual exploitation.
If you suspect your child or another child or young person is being sexually exploited, seek advice immediately from any of the following agencies:
- Children’s Social Care
- Thames Valley Police
- Parents against child sexual exploitation (PACE) also operate a telephone helpline (0113 240 3040) for parents with any concerns that their child is being exploited
If you know a young person who wants to disclose information or seek support, Say Something offers a free, 24-hour, anonymous phone and SMS helpline, 116000.
PACE have also written Keeping it Together, a booklet for parents whose children are being sexually exploited by an individual or group of adults outside of the family unit.
Further documents can be found on the CSE links and publications page.
Nine signs of child sexual exploitation (CSE)
Each of the 9 signs of CSE looked at on their own, are a warning sign that something is wrong and some indicate sexual exploitation more strongly than others. For example, unexplained gifts or new possessions can be associated with exploitation. Overly sexualised behaviour is an important indicator of sexual activity or exposure to sexual information, and sexual transmitted infections or pregnancy are serious markers of sexual activity that need further explanation.
Concerns about CSE are often triggered by the presence of more than one warning sign, so do look at each of the 9 signs before fearing the worst. For example, missing school is a common behaviour with many different causes. Look for patterns of repeated behaviour as some signs may appear to have innocent explanations if considered on their own.
In cases of child sexual exploitation it’s extremely rare for an offender to have only abused one or two children and your actions may help protect many more potential victims.
The 9 signs:
- Unexplained gifts or new possessions may be a sign of a child being groomed for sexually exploited
- Regularly missing school or not taking part in education makes children and young people more vulnerable and may be a sign of sexual exploitation
- Suffering from sexually transmitted infections may be a sign that a child or young person is being sexually exploited
- Spending time with other children and young people (either physically or online) who are being sexual exploited increases the risk of becoming a victim
- Having older boyfriends or girlfriends puts children and young people at higher risk of sexual exploitation
- Going missing for periods of time, or regularly returning home late may be a sign of sexual exploitation
- Changes in behaviour, and mood swings, may be a sign that a child or young person is being sexually exploited
- Children or young people’s use of drugs or alcohol may be associated with sexual exploitation.
- Showing overly sexualised behaviour may be a sign of a child/young person being sexually exploited
Further information can be found on our sexual abuse and FGM page.