Sexual exploitation affects young people and children across the UK every day. We all have a role to play in protecting children from exploitation, helping them to avoid this horrific form of child abuse and stop the perpetrators in their tracks.
Sexual exploitation is a form of sexual abuse where a young person is encouraged or forced into taking part in a sexual act.
It could be as part of a seemingly consensual relationship or in return for attention, food, affection, money, drugs, alcohol or somewhere to stay.
The young person may think the abuser is their friend, or even their boyfriend/girlfriend, but they will put them into dangerous situations, forcing the young person to do or see things of a sexual nature. The abuser may or may not use violence, but they will control and manipulate their victim, trying to isolate them from friends and family.
It can occur through the use of the internet or on mobile phones. In all cases, those exploiting the child or young person have power over them because of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or resources.
The victims are not at fault, and sometimes are not even aware it is happening. Abusers can be very clever in the way they manipulate, groom and take advantage.
For victims, the pain of their ordeal and fear that they will not be believed means they are too often scared to come forward.
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.
Perpetrators of these crimes are becoming increasingly sophisticated, using the internet to protect their identity and trafficking children around the country to avoid detection.