Exploitation of children and young people

Child exploitation (CE) and child sexual exploitation (CSE)

What is it and what are we doing to help?

Our children face a number of challenges to their safety and wellbeing today. None of these are more complex and damaging than criminal and sexual exploitation. Being drawn into exploitative situations can have severe consequences for children, their families, friends and communities. In such situations, children can be both victims and perpetrators of serious harm, 

Any young person can become a victim of sexual or criminal exploitation. Many young people who are being exploited do not recognise they are being abused. The link between children being exploited and children going missing is a recognised risk factor. Children who go missing may be ‘pushed away’ following abuse or ‘pulled away’ because they are being exploited.

County lines is a major issue involving:

  • drugs
  • violence
  • gangs
  • safeguarding
  • criminal and sexual exploitation
  • modern slavery
  • missing persons

The response to tackle it involves:

  • the Police
  • the National Crime Agency
  • a wide range of Government departments
  • local government agencies
  • voluntary and community sector organisations

The UK Government defines county lines as:

'County lines is a term used to describe gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas within the UK, using dedicated mobile phone lines or other form of “deal line”. They are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs and money and they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence (including sexual violence) and weapons.

County lines activity and the associated violence, drug dealing, and exploitation has a devastating impact on young people, vulnerable adults and local communities.'

How might we recognise if our children and young people are vulnerable to exploitation?

It is important for everyone to be aware of possible indicators of exploitation. The list below is not exhaustive but contain warning signs and typical vulnerability factors:

  • Missing from home or care and / or absent from school
  • Involvement in offending
  • Drug or alcohol misuse
  • Repeat Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), pregnancies and terminations
  • Poor mental health, self-harm and / or thoughts or attempts at suicide
  • Receipt of gifts from unknown sources
  • Changes in physical appearance and / or physical injuries
  • Evidence of sexual bullying and / or vulnerability through the internet and / or social networking sites
  • Estranged from their family
  • Recruiting others into exploitative situations 

The following are typical vulnerability factors in young people. Although, remember that young people from any background may become victims of exploitation:

  • Living in a chaotic or dysfunctional household. (This includes parental substance abuse, domestic abuse, criminality, etc)
  • History of abuse
  • Recent bereavement or loss
  • Gang association (either through relatives, peers or intimate relationships)
  • Learning disabilities
  • Associating with other young people who are victims of child sexual exploitation
  • Uncertainty about their sexual orientation or identity and / or unable to disclose this to their families
  • Living in residential care
  • Lack of friends from the same age group
  • Homeless or living in a hostel, B&B or a foyer
  • Low self-esteem or confidence
  • Those in alternative educational provision including those electively home educated

However, it is important to stress that for some young people none of the above will be apparent.

If you are a parent or carer, please have a look at the information listed below. This provides you with more information about what you can do to protect your child and who to contact if you have concerns.

Useful links

Do you have immediate concerns or are worried about a child or young person's safety? If so, please telephone the Multi Agency Referral Unit (MARU): 0300 123 1116

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