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Sexual exploitation

Anybody can be a victim of sexual exploitation. Whilst it mainly affects women, men can also be victims. 

Adult sexual exploitation (ASE)

ASE is a form of sexual abuse that involves someone taking advantage of an adult sexually for their own benefit, through threats, bribes, and violence. Abusers can hold power over their victims due to age, gender, sexual identity, physical strength or status.

Adults can be sexually exploited in many ways. Examples include:

  • Rape
  • Other sexual assault
  • Being tricked or manipulated into having sex or performing a sexual act
  • Being trafficked into, out of, or around the UK for the purpose of sexual exploitation (prostitution)
  • Being forced to take part in or watch pornography
  • Being a victim of revenge porn – when a previously taken video or photograph (which was taken with or without consent) is shared online

Child sexual exploitation (CSE)

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a type of sexual abuse. When a child or young person is exploited, they’re given things, like gifts, drugs, money, status and affection, in exchange for performing sexual activities. Children and young people are often tricked into believing they’re in a loving and consensual relationship. This is called grooming. They may trust their abuser and not understand that they’re being abused.

Children and young people can be trafficked into or within the UK to be sexually exploited. They’re moved around the country and abused by being forced to take part in sexual activities, often with more than one person. Young people in gangs can also be sexually exploited.

Sometimes abusers use violence and intimidation to frighten or force a child or young person, making them feel as if they’ve no choice. They may lend them large sums of money they know can’t be repaid or use financial abuse to control them.

Anybody can be a perpetrator of CSE, no matter their age, gender, or race. The relationship could be framed as friendship, someone to look up to or romantic. Children and young people who are exploited may also be used to ‘find’ or coerce others to join groups.

Types of child sexual exploitation

CSE can happen in person or online. An abuser will gain a child’s trust or control them through violence or blackmail before moving onto sexually abusing them. This can happen in a short period of time.

When a child is sexually exploited online they might be persuaded or forced to:

  • send or post sexually explicit images of themselves
  • film or stream sexual activities
  • have sexual conversations.

Once an abuser has images, video or copies of conversations, they might use threats and blackmail to force a young person to take part in other sexual activity. They may also share the images and videos with others or circulate them online.

Gangs use sexual exploitation:

  • to exert power and control
  • for initiation
  • to use sexual violence as a weapon.

Children or young people might be invited to parties or gatherings with others their own age or adults and given drugs and alcohol. They may be assaulted and sexually abused by one person or multiple perpetrators. The sexual assaults and abuse can be violent, humiliating and degrading.

Signs of child sexual exploitation

Sexual exploitation can be difficult to spot and sometimes mistaken for “normal” teenage behaviour. Knowing the signs can help protect children and help them when they’ve no one else to turn to.

Signs of sexual abuse and grooming

  • Unhealthy or inappropriate sexual behaviour.
  • Being frightened of some people, places or situations.
  • Bring secretive.
  • Sharp changes in mood or character.
  • Having money or things they can’t or won’t explain.
  • Physical signs of abuse, like bruises or bleeding in their genital or anal area.
  • Alcohol or drug misuse.
  • Sexually transmitted infections.

Help and support

Call NSPCC on 0808 800 5000,

Other organisations that can help include Barnardo’s and The Children’s Society. They run services for children and young people across the UK.

Barnardo’s Wud U? app shows children how to make safe decisions.

Children and young people can contact:

Fearless to report crime anonymously

Gangsline for free advice and support from ex-gang members

Victim Support if they’ve experienced crime.

Childline understands how difficult it is for children to talk about sexual exploitation and abuse. Whether it’s happening now or happened in the past, Childline can be contacted 24/7. Calls to 0800 1111 are free and confidential. Children can also contact Childline online.