Identifying child exploitation

Everyone’s child is at risk of exploitation – at any age, anytime, anywhere

Child sexual exploitation

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a type of abuse in which children are sexually exploited for money, power or status.

Parents are often the first to notice something is wrong. Trust your instincts and talk to your child if you’re worried.

Some things to think about:

  • do they have a boyfriend, girlfriend, or friends including adults who you don’t know?
  • have you noticed them getting presents, money, a mobile phone or jewellery and you don't know where it came from?
  • have they been missing from home, staying out overnight or missing school?
  • do they get picked up or dropped off by unknown people?
  • are they secretive about where they go and who they see?
  • do they chat to people online who they’ve never met?
  • do you know what they’re accessing online?
  • are they drinking or taking drugs regularly?

Be aware

Children or young people are often tricked into believing they’re in a normal or loving, consensual relationship. Sometimes they will be invited to parties and given drugs and alcohol. They may also be groomed online.

Children and young people can also become victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation. Children can be brought into the UK, or moved within its borders. Sexual exploitation can also happen to young people in gangs.

If you suspect a child may be at risk, or have any information relating to child sexual exploitation, contact us as soon as possible, or call the Police on 101.

Care Connect

Line open Monday to Friday 8am - 6pm

If a child is in immediate danger, dial 999 straight away.

Child criminal exploitation

Child criminal exploitation is a type of abuse perpetrated by organised crime groups. There is no legal definition of child criminal exploitation (CCE) in England and Wales.

The Knowsley Safeguarding Children Partnership defines the exploitation of anyone under-18 as:

situations, contexts and relationships where young people receive ‘something’ (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, affection, gifts, money) as a result of them completing a task for another individual or group. This is often of a criminal nature.

It often occurs without the child’s immediate recognition, with the child believing that they are in control of the situation. In all cases, those exploiting the child have power over them due to their age, gender, intellect, physical strength or other resources.

Violence, coercion and intimidation are common. The child or young person will have limited choices, because of social/economic and/or emotional vulnerability.

Push and pull factors

The criminal exploitation of children includes a combination of push, pull, and control factors. Push factors are things that drive the child to detach from people who keep them safe. This, in turn, leaves them vulnerable for exploitation and abuse. Pull factors are actions that lure the child in.

Push factors:

  • family conflict or domestic abuse
  • neglect
  • parental substance abuse
  • being thrown out of the home
  • bereavement or loss

Pull factors:

  • promises of something they need, such as food, housing, gifts, money, or drugs, in exchange for tasks or actions
  • group acceptance or validation
  • travel, adventure, or excitement

Control factors: 

  • brain washing
  • violence or threats of violence
  • threats of arrest or criminal conviction

Exploitation and consent

The majority of children or young people who enter into exploitation do so willingly. Their involvement is indicative of coercion or desperation rather than choice. Many young people do not recognize that they are being exploited or that they are at risk. The majority of children who are vulnerable to criminal exploitation are male. However, exploitation can happen to girls as well.

It is important to note that perpetrators of CCE may themselves be exploited children. Victims of CCE are also at risk of becoming perpetrators without intervention.