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Sexual exploitation can be hard to recognise because you often believe you’re in a good relationship with the person – or people – who want to abuse your trust in them. It could be a friend, or group of friends. It could be someone you think of as a boyfriend or girlfriend. It could be a person or a new group of people you’ve only just got to know. It could be someone you’ve talked to online. But whoever it is, they could use clever ways to take advantage of your relationship – and that means you can be harmed almost before you know what’s going on.

For example, someone might give you money, drugs, alcohol, gifts or somewhere to stay and then force you to do one or more of these things in return:

  • have sex with them
  • do something sexual to them
  • be touched inappropriately, in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable
  • look at sexual images – including films or pictures
  • watch them do something sexual, including having sex or touching themselves sexually

That’s why it’s so important to look out for the warning signs in someone’s behaviour. So be aware, stay alert and keep safe.

What to do if you are worried about yourself or a friend (LINK)

If you are worried about a situation that you or a friend is in, talk to an adult that you trust as soon as you can. You may also want to contact the Barnardo’s specialist sexual exploitation project for advice, or to talk to someone about what you’ve been through on 01489 796684.

If you, or a friend, are in immediate danger or want urgent help, call the police on 999.

Use our top tips to protect yourself from exploitation.

Three top tips to keep safe

  • Trust yourself to know when something is wrong
  • If someone makes you feel unsafe, pressured or frightened, follow your instincts and seek help
  • Don’t trust people you don’t know, even if they seem friendly – and make sure you know who you are talking to online. Never give away personal details or agree to meet someone who you have only talked to online. Don’t be tricked into doing things that are unsafe, even if they seem like fun. What might look exciting at first could be more dangerous than you realise


People trafficking is the movement of people from one area to another by use of force or threat for the purpose of some form of exploitation.  Examples of exploitation could be forcing a young person to have sex, forcing them into marriage, forcing the young person to work in horrible conditions or forcing them to carry out a crime.  Traffickers can be male and female and control young people by threatening to report them to the authorities, telling them they owe large sums of money, or by threats of violence to them or their families.

Signs of Trafficking:

Could this be you or a friend?

  • Do you go missing from home?
  • Are you prevented from going outside or locked in?
  • Are you not allowed to go to school or college?
  • Are you forced to earn a certain amount of money each day?
  • Do you have an excessive amount of chores to do at home?
  • Do you have a bad relationship with your parents or carers?
  • Are you told you have a large debt to pay back?
  • Are you afraid of being sent away from the UK?

Where to get help?

If you recognise any of these signs then you need to get help by calling the telephone numbers below:

Police – 101 or 999 in an emergency

Barnardo’s Trafficking Service (24/7) 0800 043 4303

ChildLine 0800 1111

NSPCC 24 hour Child Protection helpline 0808 800 5000