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Child Sexual Exploitation

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

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, or other items you 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?
  • Has their appearance and/or behavior significantly changed

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.

Immediate danger

If you think a child is in immediate danger, call the police on 999.

Immediate concern

If you have a concern about a child, please call MASH on 0345 050 7666.

What is sexual exploitation?

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the child needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator.

The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.

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.

If they won’t talk to you, please do not let the matter drop. There may be someone else that you both trust that could talk to them – a grandparent, uncle or family friend, or someone from your religious or local community. Tell the trusted person about your concerns and ask them to have a word. It is important the young person does not feel blamed or at fault.

How does it happen?

We know from experience that some people target young people and draw them into abusive sexual relationships.  This is known as ‘grooming’ and examples of this include:

  • 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.
  • At this point the child is likely to feel shame and be worried that they will be judged and not want to tell.