What is sexual exploitation
Sexual exploitation is when people use the power they have over people to sexually abuse them. Their power may result from a difference in age, gender, intellect, strength, money or other resources.
People often think of sexual exploitation in terms of serious organised crime, but it also covers abuse in relationships and may involve informal exchanges of sex for something a child wants or needs, such as accommodation, gifts, cigarettes or attention. Some children are "groomed" through "boyfriends" who then force the child or young person into having sex with friends or associates.
Sexual abuse covers penetrative sexual acts, sexual touching, masturbation and the misuse of sexual images – such as on the internet or by mobile phone.
Who is at risk
Any child or young person can be a victim of sexual exploitation, but children are believed to be at greater risk of being sexually exploited if they:
- are homeless
- have feelings of low self-esteem
- have had a recent bereavement or loss
- are in care
- are a young carer
Spot the signs
Young people who are being sexually exploited may:
- go missing from home, care or education
- be involved in abusive relationships, intimidated and fearful of certain people or situations
- hang out with groups of older people, or antisocial groups, or with other vulnerable peers
- associate with other young people involved in sexual exploitation
- get involved in gangs, gang fights, gang membership
- have older boyfriends or girlfriends
- spend time at places of concern, such as hotels or known brothels
- not know where they are, because they have been moved around the country
- be involved in petty crime such as shoplifting
- have unexplained physical injuries
- have a changed physical appearance, for example lost weight
What to do if you suspect a child is being sexually exploited
Do not confront the alleged abuser. Confronting them may place the child in greater physical danger and may give the abuser time to confuse or threaten them into silence.
Seek professional advice. Discuss your concerns with your local authority's children’s services (safeguarding team), the police or an independent organisation, such as the NSPCC.
Underage sex means having sex when below the age of consent, which is the age at which you're legally allowed to have sex.
In the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales) the age of consent is 16. This means you have to be 16 or older to have sex. This includes penetrative sex, oral sex or masturbating together.
The age of consent is the same regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of a person and whether the sexual activity is between people of the same or different gender.
It is an offence for anyone to have any sexual activity with a person under the age of 16. However, Home Office guidance is clear that there is no intention to prosecute teenagers under the age of 16 where both mutually agree and where they are of a similar age.