Sadly, sometimes there are people out there who want to take advantage of our children. They may manipulate, coerce, trick or force children in to doing things that the child does not want to do, or that the child does not understand.
Child exploitation (CE) can be a hugely distressing, but fairly rare form of sexual, emotional and physical abuse of children. Knowing the signs and being aware of the support available can help to equip parents and carers with the knowledge and tools to act.
In this section, learn more about what child exploitation is, signs to watch out for and the impact of CE on families
Child sexual exploitation can ruin children’s lives. But it doesn’t just impact on the victims – it affects their parents, siblings and the entire family.
As a rough guide, child sexual exploitation can be defined in the following terms:
- A person under 18 is exploited when they are coerced into sexual or criminal activities by one or more person(s) who have deliberately targeted their youth and inexperience in order to exercise power over them.
- The process often involves a stage of ‘grooming’, in which the child might receive something (such as a mobile phone, clothes, drugs or alcohol, attention or affection) prior to, or as a result of, performing sexual or criminal activities, or having sexual activities performed on them.
- Child exploitation may occur through the use of technology without the child’s consent or immediate recognition; for example through being persuaded to post sexual images over the internet or via mobile phone.
- Child exploitation is often conducted with actual violence or the threat of violence. This may be threats towards the child, or her or his family and may prevent the child from disclosing the abuse or exiting the cycle of exploitation. Indeed, the child may be so confused by the process, that they do not perceive any abuse at all.
Spotting the signs of Child Exploitation
It can be difficult to recognise the warning signs of child exploitation, as they are similar to the challenges that all parents of adolescent or near-adolescent children face.
Adolescence is a time of experimentation and can be a particularly challenging period for parents and their children. Most parents understand the value of young people learning about themselves through new experiences, but also want to protect their child from harm.
There could be cause for concern if your child is exhibiting three or more of the following warning signs:
- He or she becomes especially secretive and stops engaging with their usual friends. They may be particularly prone to sharp mood swings. Whilst mood swings are common to all adolescents, it is the severity of behaviour change that is most indicative.
- They may be associating with, or develop a sexual relationship or friendship with older men and/or women (although bear in mind that the perpetrators could approach the child through a peer who is already being exploited)
- They may go missing from home– and be defensive about their location and activities, often returning home late or staying out all night (again, perpetrators know that parents will immediately suspect something is wrong if their child stays out all night, so they may initially drop the child off at the home address and before their curfew. They may even pick them up outside the school gates).
- They may receive odd calls and messages on their mobiles or social media pages from unknown, possibly much older associates from outside their normal social network
- They may be in possession of new, unaccounted for items such as money, mobile phones, clothing or jewellery
Your child may also:
- Exhibit a sudden change in dressing patterns or musical taste
- Look tired and/or unwell, and sleep at unusual hours
- Have marks or scars on their body which they try to conceal
- Adopt new ‘street language’ or respond to a new street name
The Impact on you and your Child
Perpetrators are both skilled and strategic; they aim to drive a wedge between you and your child, closing down the normal channels of communication and emotional bond between you.
If your child is affected, then it is also important to remember:
- It’s not your fault. Child exploitation happens to girls and boys from all types of family.
- You are not alone – many parents have gone through what you are going through and do understand.
- There are agencies available to help you and to help to keep your child safe. Please contact your local authority. You can find their details below.
Other helpful Information:
Parents Against Child Exploitation (PACE) https://paceuk.info/
Information about County Lines and Child Criminal Exploitation can be found at:
If you are concerned that a child or young person is at risk of or experiencing abuse through exploitation, please refer to your local authority link below to be directed to the correct page.