Children at risk of exploitation - information for parents and carers

Child sexual exploitation can happen at any time and your child may not even realise it is happening to them.

Sexual and criminal exploitation can happen to any child − whatever their background, age, gender, race or sexuality or wherever they live. It's a form of sexual abuse and is against the law. Children in exploitative situations and relationships receive something such as gifts, money or affection as a result of performing sexual activities or others performing sexual activities on them.

Sexual exploitation is abuse

What is sexual abuse? A child is sexually abused when they are forced or persuaded to take part in sexual activities.

  • this doesn't have to be physical contact and it can happen online
  • sometimes the child won't understand that what's happening to them is abuse
  • they may not even understand that it's wrong.

Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children.

Child sexual abuse online

When sexual exploitation happens online, young people may be persuaded, or forced, to:

  • send or post sexually explicit images of themselves
  • take part in sexual activities via a webcam or smartphone
  • have sexual conversations by text or online
  • abusers may threaten to send images, video or copies of conversations to the young person's friends and family unless they take part in other sexual activity.
  • images or videos may continue to be shared long after the sexual abuse has stopped.

Kayleigh's Love Story is as a warning to young people, both girls and boys, about the dangers of speaking to people they don't know online. The short film produced by Leicestershire Police highlights just how quick and easy it can be for children to be groomed online without them or those around them knowing it is happening. Its purpose is to protect children now and in the future and to stop another family losing a child in this way.

Child sexual exploitation in gangs

Sexual exploitation is used in gangs to:

  • exert power and control over members
  • initiate young people into the gang
  • exchange sexual activity for status or protection
  • entrap rival gang members by exploiting girls and young women
  • inflict sexual assault as a weapon in conflict
  • girls and young women are frequently forced into sexual activity by gang members.

Criminal exploitation

Child criminal exploitation can involve force and/or methods of enticement and may or may not be accompanied by violence or threats of violence, including threats to family members. Criminal exploitation could be perpetrated by individuals, groups or gangs and may feature children becoming indebted and then exploited in order to pay off debts.

Criminal exploitation may also involve individuals targeting homes of vulnerable adults in order to distribute drugs, this is known as ‘cuckooing’.

There are similarities between different forms of exploitation and the criminal and sexual exploitation of children may overlap.

Take action

If you know a child this is happening to and they are in immediate danger tel: 999.

For help and support tel: 101 or Starting Point on tel: 01629 533190.

Spot the signs:

  • Have they made a new friend who is taking them away from other friends and family?

  • Are they staying out later, going missing or being more secretive?

  • Are they receiving unexplained gifts?

  • Are they losing interest in the things they used to do?