What to do if you suspect a child is being exploited.

Sexual exploitation

Everyone should be aware of the key indicators of children being sexually exploited which can include:

  • going missing for periods of time or regularly coming home late;
  • regularly missing school or education or not taking part in education;
  • appearing with unexplained gifts or new possessions;
  • secretive about e-communications 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; and displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviour.

We should also be aware that many children and young people who are victims of sexual exploitation do not recognise themselves as such, and that exploitation may be peer on peer.

When considering whether a child or young person’s sexual behaviour might mean that they are a victim or at risk of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE), think about the following:-

  • the age of the child
  • whether drink or drugs are involved that might undermine judgement
  • whether inducements, pressure, coercion, or violence are involved
  • what the perceived or actual consequences for a child or young person might be of not saying Yes
  • is the child agreeing to sex for the wrong reasons

CSE is therefore potentially a child protection issue for all children under the age of 18 years and not just those in a specific age group.

Other resources available to children, young people and professionals where CSE is a concern.   

Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE)

Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) is common in county lines and occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, control, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18. The victim may have been criminally exploited even if the activity appears consensual. CCE does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.

  • CCE often occurs without the victim being aware that they are being exploited and involves children and young people being encouraged, cajoled or threatened to carry out crime for the benefit of others.
  • Victims of CCE are often fearful of getting into trouble themselves – as a result of the illegal nature of the very actions they have been exploited into carrying out - so it can also especially difficult for these young people to come forward and speak out about their situation or ask for help.
  • Gangs specifically target vulnerable children and those who do not have support networks for the purpose of criminal exploitation. Children with special educational needs, mental health problems or disabilities are known to be purposely targeted. Gangs also look for emotional vulnerability, such as children experiencing problems at home, who have absent/busy parents or have experienced bereavement. The gangs seek to fill that emotional gap for the child and become ‘their family’.

Referring cases – children

Where child exploitation, or the risk of it, is suspected, you should:

Referring cases – adults and premises

People should also refer concerns relating to adults and their involvement with children and young people where they believe that CSE or CCE may be a concern and any premises/venues which they believe may be associated with CSE or CCE.