Sexual exploitation affects young people and children across the UK every day. As a parent, knowing or suspecting your child is being sexually abused can be incredibly traumatic.

It can be difficult to know how to begin to do something about it. We understand that reporting your concerns is not easy, particularly when the abuser is someone that you know and trust. However, to protect your child, it is vital that you do speak out.

Sexual abuse is currently under reported, but we know from our work with children that it’s crucial they have a chance to seek any help and support they may need. Coping with sexual abuse alone or burying the problem doesn’t help. And in some cases, it can also mean children are left in abusive situations.

How it happens

Sometimes young people are ‘groomed’ by an abusing adult who befriends them and makes them feel special by buying gifts or giving them lots of attention. Young people can be targeted online or in person.

Sexual exploitation can also occur between young people of a similar age.

Often the abuser will have power of some kind over the young person. They may be older or more emotionally mature, physically stronger or in a position where they can control the young person.

There are some situations that can make young people more vulnerable to exploitation – by becoming distant from the people who would usually look after them. Young people who are having difficulties at home, regularly go missing or have been in care may be particularly vulnerable but this kind of exploitation can happen to any young person.

What you can do

As a parent or carer, it is important to discuss with children the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships to help highlight potential risks to them.

There are also steps you can take, including:

  • Stay alert to changes in behaviour or physical signs of abuse such as bruising.
  • Encourage your child to wait until they’re mature enough to have a sexual relationship and help them recognise the signs of abuse.
  • Being aware of new unexplained gifts or possessions, and carefully monitoring any late nights or episodes of a young person not returning home overnight.
  • Be aware of secretive behaviour, especially around your child’s use of their mobile phone or the internet.
  • Be cautious about older friends your child may have, or relationships with other young people when there appears to be a power imbalance.
  • Understanding the risks of your child being online and putting measures in place to minimise these.