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Sexual Exploitation

Sexual exploitation is a form of sexual abuse, in which a young person is manipulated, or forced into taking part in a sexual act. This could be as part of a seemingly consensual relationship, or in return for attention, affection, money, drugs, alcohol or somewhere to stay. The young person may think that their abuser is their friend, or even a boyfriend or girlfriend.

The abuser may physically or verbally threaten the young person or be violent towards them. They will control and manipulate them, and try to isolate them from friends and family. It happens to boys and young men as well as girls and young women. The victims of abuse are not at fault. Abusers are very clever in the way they manipulate and take advantage of the young people they abuse.

What to do:

If you are worried a child or young person is at risk of sexual exploitation go to: What to do if you’re worried about the safety of a child

For further advice speak to Barnardo’s specialist sexual exploitation project 01489 796684

Further information

For practical advice on what to do if your child goes missing see the Children’s Society Guidance:

For more information please visit What is child sexual abuse

How does Sexual Exploitation happen?

Many sexually exploited young people have been ‘groomed’ by an abusing adult who befriends the young person and makes them feel special by buying them gifts or giving them lots of attention. Young people may be targeted on-line or in person. Young people who are having difficulties at home, regularly go missing or have experienced care may be particularly vulnerable.

What are the signs?

Children and young people that are the victims of sexual exploitation often do not recognise that they are being exploited. However, there are a number of telltale signs that a child may be being groomed for sexual exploitation. These include:

  • going missing for periods of time or regularly returning home late
  • regularly missing school or not taking part in education
  • appearing with unexplained gifts or new possessions
  • associating with other young people involved in exploitation
  • having older boyfriends or girlfriends
  • suffering from sexually transmitted infections
  • mood swings or changes in emotional wellbeing
  • drug and alcohol misuse
  • displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviour

What can I do as a parent or a carer?

As a parent or carer, it is important to discuss with children the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships to help highlight potential risks to them. There are also a number of practical steps you can take to protect children such as:

  • staying alert to changes in behaviour or any physical signs of abuse such as bruising
  • being aware of new, unexplained gifts or possessions
  • carefully monitoring any episodes of staying out late or not returning home
  • exercising caution around older friends your child may have, or relationships with other young people where there appears to be a power imbalance
  • making sure you understand the risks associated with your child being on-line and putting measures in place to minimise these risks.

Anything you notice can help a child at risk.   Many people do not act because they’re worried about being wrong.  You don’t have to be absolutely certain; if you’re concerned a child is being abused or their safety is at risk, speak to someone.  Please follow the link here for the DfE campaign ‘Child abuse. If you think it, report it.’.