Are you worried your child is being sexually exploited?

Are you worried your child is being sexually exploited?

Knowing the warning signs and what to do will help you to act quickly if you believe that your child is at risk.

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What is child sexual exploitation?

Child sexual exploitation is a type of child sexual abuse. It is when an individual or group take advantage of an imbalance of power, to trick a child (anyone under 18) in to receiving ‘something’ in exchange for performing sexual acts, and/or having others perform sexual acts on them. ‘Something’ can mean material things such as: somewhere to live, food, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, gifts or money. It can also mean emotional things such as: status, protection, affection, someone to talk to or a perceived relationship.

If you have concerns that a child is being sexually exploited, you should report your concerns to police. If a child is in immediate danger, call 999.

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Child sexual exploitation can happen online as well as offline

This is usually carried out by someone, or a group of people, outside of the family. It is often perpetrated against groups of young people.

They might use gifts, bribes, manipulation, threats, violence and humiliation to take advantage of the young person.

Young people may be introduced to exploiters through friends and getting young people to ‘recruit’ other young people may be a part of the abuse and control.

Young people often won’t recognise that what is happening is abuse. Child sexual exploitation can involve tricking young people into building trust with the exploiter and believing they are in a real and consensual relationship. This is ‘grooming’.

Child sexual exploitation can happen to any child, regardless of gender, race, religion or class.

How can I tell if my child is being exploited?

Every child is different, but there are some warning signs which indicate that a child might be experiencing sexual exploitation. Experts at PACE (Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation) recommend, as a very general rule, that you take action if your child is exhibiting three or more of the following signs:

● Your child may become especially secretive and stop engaging with their usual friends

● They may be associating with, or developing a sexual relationship with, older men and/or women

● They may go missing from home – and be defensive about their location and activities, often returning home late or staying out all night

● They may receive odd calls and messages on their mobiles or social media

● They may be in possession of new, expensive items and can’t explain how they got them

Learn more from PACE about warning signs here. 

Is your child going missing?

Children going missing should always be treated with concern; whilst not always the reason, it can be a sign that are being sexually exploited. If your child goes missing it is really important that you report it to the local police. This is just as important when boys go missing as it is for girls.

If you are concerned that their absence might be linked to sexual exploitation then you should make this clear to the police from the start. This will help the police offer you and your family the right support.

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What should I do?

If you are concerned that your child is being sexually exploited, or is at risk of sexual exploitation, we recommend that you:

● Report your concerns to the police

● Get phone advice from an experienced Parent Support Worker at PACE (Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation), or visit their online advice centre

● Talk to your child. This might not be easy but it is important that know you care, are worried about them and will be there to support them

Tips on talking to your child

If your child is being sexually exploited, they probably won’t recognise that what is happening is abuse.

It is highly likely that at first they will reject your attempts to help them. However they react, make sure they know that you are there for them, and continue to offer them support.

You know your child best and there is no right or wrong way of starting this conversation. However you decide to approach it, try to remember the following:

● Tell them that if anything has happened, there are plenty of people who care and who can help them

● Focus on your concern for them and their welfare

● Describe the behaviour changes you have noticed, and explain why they worry you

● Explain that in a healthy relationship no-one is ever pressured, bullied or threatened into doing anything they don’t feel comfortable doing

● Talk to your child about how to get help. Let them know that there is a way out

● If your child denies there is a problem, or is aggressive, you should persist in offering them help and seeking support from professionals who can advise on how to deal with the situation.