Skip to content
Company Logo

Safeguarding Children Abused Through Sexual Exploitation

Scope of this chapter

Where there is harm or a concern of harm to a child or young person resulting from sexual exploitation these Hertfordshire Safeguarding Children Partnership (HSCP) procedures must be followed to make a professional referral to Children's Services (see Contacts and Referrals Procedure). The HSCP procedures must also be followed when undertaking assessments of children or young people who are subject to, or susceptible to, sexual exploitation.

Advice for different target groups, i.e. children and young people, parents, carers and professionals is available on the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.

Related guidance

The guidance provides information about sexual exploitation, the roles and responsibilities of relevant agencies and the procedures practitioners should follow to ensure the safety and well-being of children and young people who it is suspected have been sexually exploited.

Sexual exploitation has been identified as a serious concern both nationally and internationally. It can occur in all communities and can affect both girls and boys. It can have a serious detrimental impact on the lives of those affected by it. In accordance with central government guidance, all agencies in Hertfordshire will aim to:

  • Develop local prevention strategies (see Hertfordshire's Strategy to Prevent Child Sexual Exploitation);
  • Identify those at risk of sexual exploitation;
  • Take action to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who have been sexually exploited;
  • Take appropriate action against perpetrators;
  • Undertake a child centred approach;
  • Focus on identification, and early intervention along with responding to known cases;
  • Undertake an integrated approach and partnership approach to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and young people who are or may be the  subject of sexual exploitation.

A Service level agreement has been created between Hertfordshire Constabulary and Hertfordshire County Council’s Children’s Services for the referral of information between organisations in respect of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE). The agreement aims to:

  • Create a framework for timely notification of CSE cases between both organisations;
  • Provide clarity regarding the mechanisms for the exchange of case information which are underpinned by existing information sharing protocols;
  • Document a framework for the management of Professionals Discussions regarding CSE cases falling outside the statutory S47 framework.

The sexual exploitation of children and young people is a form of child sexual abuse. This guidance uses the following description of child sexual exploitation:

Sexual exploitation of children and young people under 18 involves exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where young people (or a third person or persons) receive 'something' (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of them performing, and/or another or others performing on them, sexual activities. Child sexual exploitation can occur through the use of technology without the child's immediate recognition; for example being persuaded to post sexual images on the internet/mobile phones without immediate payment or gain. In all cases, those exploiting the child/young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources. Violence, coercion and intimidation are common, involvement in exploitative relationships being characterised in the main by the child or young person's limited availability of choice resulting from their social/economic and/or emotional vulnerability.

This definition arises from joint work between project members of the National Working Group for Sexually Exploited Children and Young People (NWG) 2008. The National Working Group is a support group for individuals and service providers working with children and young people who are at risk of or who experience sexual exploitation. The Group’s membership covers voluntary and statutory services including health, education and social services.

Note: The Department for Education are consulting on a new definition to be published in Working Together to Safeguard Children

Any child or young person may be at risk of sexual exploitation, regardless of their family background or other circumstances. This includes boys and young men as well as girls and young women. However, some groups of young people are particularly vulnerable. These include:

Sexual exploitation involves varying degrees of coercion, intimidation or enticement, including unwanted pressure from their peers to have sex, sexual bullying (including cyber bullying), and grooming for sexual activity. Technology can also play a part in sexual abuse, for example, through its use to record abuse and share it with other like-minded individuals or as a medium to access children and young people in order to groom them. It is also important to remember that it is an offence for a person to have a sexual relationship with a 16 or 17 year old if they hold a position of trust or authority in relation to them. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 has extended the definition of Position of Trust within the Sexual Offences Act 2003 section 22A to include anyone who coaches, teaches, trains, supervises or instructs a child under 18, on a regular basis, in a sport or a religion. It is against the law for someone in a position of trust to engage in sexual activity with a child in their care, even if that child is over the age of consent (16 or over).

Children and young people affected by sexual exploitation should be treated primarily as the victims of abuse, and their needs require careful assessment. They are likely to be in need of welfare services and, in many cases, protection.

The principles underpinning multi-agency response to the sexual exploitation of children include that:

  • Sexual exploitation incorporates sexual, physical and emotional abuse, as well as, in some cases, neglect;
  • Children and young people do not make informed choices to enter or continue to be sexually exploited, but do so from coercion, enticement manipulation or desperation. They may have difficulty distinguishing between their own choices around sex and sexuality and the sexual activities into which they are being coerced. Their experiences and circumstances mean that they have constrained choices;
  • Children under 16 years old cannot consent to sexual activity; sexual activity with children under the age of 13 is statutory rape;
  • Sexually exploited children should be treated as victims of abuse, not as offenders. Children under 16 will always be dealt with as actual or potential victims. For young people from 16 to 18 years old, consideration may be given, in very limited circumstances;
  • There should be equal importance given to the issues of Prevention, Protection and Prosecution. Legal action should be taken against the perpetrators of sexual exploitation, but where prosecution is unlikely, disruption strategies should be employed;
  • Victims of abuse should be considered primarily under the provisions of the Children Act 1989, the child's welfare being paramount;
  • Premature criminalisation of young people in these circumstances is to be avoided;
  • Each child is unique and due consideration should be given to matters of gender, race, religion, culture, language and sexual orientation.

Agencies should work together to:

  • Recognise the problem;
  • Treat the child primarily as a victim of abuse;
  • Safeguard the children involved and promote their welfare;
  • Work together to prevent abuse and provide children with opportunities and strategies to exit from prostitution;
  • Investigate and prosecute those who coerce, exploit and abuse children;
  • Share information and intelligence.

All professionals working with young people should be aware of the links between the risk indicators of sexual exploitation. The response made will depend on the degree of risk of harm suspected or identified. When professionals are unsure what level of response their concern requires, they can seek advice from  the Police – CSE team, and CYPS – Children's Services.

The professionals involved in making judgements on the levels of risk should be clear on the basis of those judgements and the sources of information.

The indicators below are recognised as the most common indicators of Child Sexual Exploitation, the consistent application of which will inform professional judgement and will assist in the identification, level and monitoring of risk to children and young people.

Lower Level Indicators:

  • Regularly coming home late or going missing;
  • Overt sexualised dress;
  • Sexualised risk taking including on Internet;
  • Unaccounted for monies or goods;
  • Associating with unknown adults or other sexually exploited children;
  • Reduced contact with family and friends and other support networks;
  • Sexually transmitted infections;
  • Experimenting with drugs and/or alcohol;
  • Poor self-image, eating disorders some self-harm.

Medium Level Indicators - any of the above and ONE or more of these indicators:

  • Getting into cars with unknown adults;
  • Associating with known CSE adults;
  • Being groomed on the internet;
  • Clipping - (offering to have sex for money or other payment and then running before sex takes place);
  • Disclosure of a physical assault with no substantiating evidence to warrant a S47 enquiry, then refusing to make or withdrawing a complaint;
  • Being involved in CSE through being seen in hotspots  (i.e. Houses, recruiting grounds);
  • Having an older boyfriend/girlfriend;
  • Non-school attendance or excluded due to behaviour;
  • Staying out overnight with no explanation;
  • Breakdown of residential placements due to behaviour;
  • Unaccounted for money or goods including mobile phones, drugs and alcohol;
  • Multiple Sexually Transmitted Infections;
  • Self harming that requires medical treatment;
  • Repeat offending;
  • Gang member or association.

High Level Indicators - any of the above and ONE or more of these indicators:

  • Child under 13 engaging in penetrative sex with another over 15 years;
  • Pattern of street homelessness and staying with an adult believed to be sexually exploiting them;
  • Child under 16 meeting different adults and exchanging or selling sexual activity;
  • Removed from known ‘red light’ district by professionals due to suspected CSE;
  • Being taken to clubs and hotels by adults and engaging in sexual activity;
  • Disclosure of serious sexual assault and then withdrawal of statement;
  • Abduction and forced imprisonment;
  • Being moved around for sexual activity;
  • Disappearing from the ‘system’ with no contact or support;
  • Being bought / sold / trafficked;
  • Multiple miscarriages or terminations;
  • Indicators of CSE in conjunction with chronic alcohol and drug use;
  • Indicators of CSE alongside serious self-harming;
  • Receiving rewards of money or goods for recruiting peers into CSE.

Professionals in all agencies should be alert to the possibility that a child they are in contact with may be being sexually exploited. The professional may already have concerns about the child e.g. that s/he is missing school, frequently missing from home, misusing substances, is depressed or self-harming etc.

In cases where a child is considered to be at risk of harm  (One or more low level indicator from list above), a plan for focused early intervention and diversion should be made to safeguard the child. Agencies should consider, in discussion with the Children's Services and Police CSE team,  the extent to which the agency is able to meet the child’s needs themselves as a single agency, and how to proceed if not

In cases where the risk is considered to be medium or high  (One or more medium or high risk indicator from list above), the professional should make a referral to Children’s Services with a view to referring to the Multi-Agency Child Exploitation  (MACE)  Panel.

The Information Report Form  (see Appendix 1: CSE Information Report Operation Halo)  offers a multi agency system of sharing information with Operation Halo to aid keeping young people safe. This form should be used to provide details of any concerns about people who pose a risk to or target, groom or sexually exploit young people

Hertfordshire Safeguarding Children Partnership is committed to safeguarding and providing services to children who are sexually exploited, including through child sexual exploitation, and will proceed as follows:

  • When a parent, professional, or another person contacts Children Services’ Customer Service Centre with concerns that a child is being sexually exploited, Children Services will decide on the course of action within 24 hours. This will normally follow discussion with any referring professional or service, and involve other professionals and services as necessary, including the Police (Operation Halo Team) as a criminal offence may have been committed against a child. Where appropriate it may also be beneficial for parents to attend or be involved in the Strategy Discussion or interagency meeting. See Referral Process;
  • On receipt of a referral, Children’s Services (e.g. Assessment, Safeguarding, Locality and Family Support, or Children Looked After Team as appropriate) must consider whether the child has suffered, or is likely to suffer,significant harm, and if so, child protection procedures e.g. Strategy Meeting (see Strategy Discussion and Meetings Procedure) and S. 47 enquiries (see Section 47 Enquiries Procedure) should apply in line with the Children Act 1989. Whenever possible, a discussion should be held with the Children’s Services lead professional for safeguarding sexually exploited children (lead professional), but action should not be delayed if s/he is not available. The lead professional should be invited to any child protection conferences (see Child Protection Conferences Procedure);
  • Children and young people who are sexually exploited, or at risk of being sexual exploited, are a particularly vulnerable group of children who may become ‘lost’ to the statutory agencies, whose welfare or need for immediate services may be overlooked and for whom subsequent planning and intervention may be less than satisfactory. Particular care and attention is required, therefore, when assessing the needs of children and young people who are sexually exploited and considering how best to help them, during the assessment;
  • The child's individual needs and circumstances must be carefully assessed, including issues of ethnicity, gender, culture, disability, religion and sexual orientation;
  • If child protection procedures are not considered appropriate, the social worker, in discussion with their team manager and/or the lead professional / child protection manager, will identify the risk of harm to the child, consider a referral to Hertfordshire’s Multi-Agency Child Exploitation (MACE) Panel Terms of Reference and Referral Form;
  • Where decisions to prosecute are being taken, the priority must be to investigate and prosecute those who abuse, coerce or otherwise involved children in sexual exploitation, rather than the child victim;
  • A Strategy Discussion should be convened under the Strategy Discussion and Meeting Procedure and Single Assessment Procedure.

Sections 47 to 51 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 deal with the exploitation of children, whether through prostitution or pornography. The Act creates a number of offences that apply to both types of exploitation, see appendix 5. Sexual Offences Act 2003. Hertfordshire Police’s specialist CSE team is called Operation Halo.

Operation Halo requires close communication and co-operation from agencies to help protect individual young people and end the activities of perpetrators. Operation Halo in particular and the Police in general rely heavily on partner organisations in the sharing of background information on victims, suspects and vulnerable young people so that informed decisions on joint action can be made.

The priority for Operation Halo is the investigation and prosecution of offenders who have been involved in abusing the child through sexual exploitation. This role should be undertaken in accordance with the principle of multi-agency co-operation to safeguard children.

It is a feature of the joint approach to dealing with safeguarding issues that staff other than Police officers may at times find themselves in a position to secure and preserve vital evidence which could support a subsequent criminal prosecution. In such circumstances advice can be obtained from Operation Halo in respect of how to seize and preserve the integrity of such evidence.

All interviews with the child as an actual or potential victim should be conducted, as far as possible, in accordance with the best evidence interview. However, flexibility needs to be applied, as it may take a number of interviews before the child is able to make, or complete a statement.

If the child has made a statement and/or is a potential witness, witness protection and witness support should be considered as early as possible.

CSE Information Report Operation Halo, see Appendix 1: CSE Information Report Operation Halo.

Government guidance on children involved in sexual exploitation, notes: ‘Because of the universal nature of most health provision, health professionals may often be the first to be aware that a child may be involved, or be at risk of becoming involved, in sexual exploitation. Children involved in sexual exploitation are likely to need a range of services, including advice and counselling for harm minimisation, health promotion, advice on sexually transmitted diseases and HIV”. (Guidance on Children Involved in Prostitution (HO/DfES 2000)

Health professionals have a key role to play, school nurses, GP’s, CYPMHS staff, sexual health services and other Health staff will be mindful of the circumstances/risk indicators outlined above. They will be aware of their duty to confidentiality and to share information in order to protect children and young people. Whenever there is a concern about a young person and it is not clear if there is a duty to share information, they will contact their designated lead for Safeguarding to discuss the appropriate action.

Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation Action Plan 2012, Progress report

See Health Working Group Report on Child Sexual Exploitation “Improving the outcomes for children by promoting effective engagement of health services and staff. January 2014.

The named or designated professional for safeguarding children in each Clinical Commissioning Group and NHS Hospital trust  should monitor information to identify when more than one child in the community may be being targeted for sexual exploitation (See the North East Lincolnshire Serious Case Review (Ian Huntley), Sir Christopher Kelly (2004).

Through their PHSE programmes schools will promote models of healthy and sexual relationships. Empowering young people to make positive choices in their relationships is fundamental to them making informed decisions that protect them from sexual exploitation. This work will be targeted, particularly in schools which deal with more vulnerable pupil groups (e.g. Pupil Referral Unit, special schools).

Prevention means that the risk that children and young people will become victims of sexual exploitation is reduced by:

  1. Reducing their vulnerability;
  2. Improving their resilience;
  3. Disrupting and preventing the activities of perpetrators;
  4. Reducing tolerance of exploitative behaviour;
  5. Prosecuting abusers.

Staff in schools, further education colleges and other education establishments are uniquely placed to recognise and refer children and young people who are abused through sexual exploitation. They are also in a position to help children to avoid being sexually exploited and to support abused children to recover.

School staff should be alert and competent to identify and act upon concerns that a child is at risk of or experiencing abuse through sexual exploitation.

The nominated teacher for safeguarding children (referred to as the nominated safeguarding children adviser in this procedure) in each school should monitor information to identify when more than one child in the school or community may be being targeted for sexual exploitation (see the North East Lincolnshire Serious Case Review (Ian Huntley), Sir Christopher Kelly (2004).

See Children and Young People Who Go Missing form Home or Care, or Who are Vulnerable to Exploitation Procedure.

A multi-agency Panel which will consider children and young people who have been subject of Multi-agency action within the protocol who:

  • Repeatedly run away;
  • Remain missing;
  • Continue to present concerns to professionals;
  • Are identified as at risk of sexual exploitation while missing.

It will afford professionals the opportunity to:

  • Share information on children whose behaviour linked to running that causes professional concerns about their safety and welfare;
  • Risk assess outstanding missing children, including the possibilities of trafficking;
  • Consider actions in respect of children who repeatedly go missing. See Children and Young People Who Go Missing form Home or Care, or Who are Vulnerable to Exploitation Procedure;
  • Determine whether the children/young persons pose a risk to themselves or the community;
  • Improve inter-agency accountability;
  • Improve support to professionals working with high risk cases;
  • Reduce repeat missing episodes;
  • Promote and safeguard the welfare of children and young people.

The referral should be made on a referral form which can be obtained from the Multi-Agency Child Exploitation (MACE) Panel Coordinator. Practitioners should make a referral based on their professional judgements on the basis of harm, safety and risks to the child or young person.

Ensuring a proper balance between maintaining a trusting relationship with young people and working in partnership with parents and others often poses dilemmas. Professionals working with children follow ethical principles of confidentiality under most circumstances. However, it is important to convey via the professional relationship that absolute confidentiality cannot be guaranteed in all situations. It is the welfare of the child and other children potentially at risk that must remain paramount over all other considerations.

While it is important that children and young people are able to talk freely to staff about relationships and associated problems, it is sometimes necessary to share confidential information with significant others in protecting any child or other young person from harm and exploitation. These might include parents/carers, other child welfare professionals and the Police. This sometimes requires consultation with line managers and it may extend to seeking legal advice in particular circumstances.

Children's Services contact points will be:

  • The child's named social worker or local team;
  • Residential staff or foster carers for those looked after.

Health Service contact points will be:

  • The named child protection paediatrician and/or nurse.

Child placed in residential care

When a residential social worker suspects or knows of a child being sexually exploited s/he should inform her/his line manager. The child's social worker and Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) must also be informed.

The social worker will confirm with the team manager arrangements for an urgent Strategy Discussion or placement review according to whether there is suspicion or real concern.

Child placed with a foster carer

The child's social worker and family placement team supervising social worker should discuss with the foster carer which of the steps expected of residential staff the foster carer can reasonably undertake, and how they might be reasonably expected to deal with the child's involvement in child sexual exploitation.

The staff involved with the foster carer will take steps to advise and support them in what is likely to be a very challenging and stressful situation.

Strategy Discussions and placement review meeting

The Section 47 Strategy Discussion or placement review meeting must consider the additional factors:

  • Risks to other children in placement;
  • Whether the child should remain in placement;
  • The feasibility of controlling the child's movements and the likely effects of doing so.

Meetings must consider and record the appropriateness and method of informing the child's parent/s. If a child is 'accommodated', parent/s must be informed of all significant matters. If a child is subject to a Care Order, generally parent/s should be informed and the rationale for any decision not to inform them should be recorded on file.

Any strategy in the support plan that has implications for restriction of liberty or confiscation of property must have the written agreement of the service manager.

The support plan will form part of the care plan for the child and Pathway plan in the case of care leavers.

Involvement of groups of children looked after

Where there is knowledge or suspicion that looked after children are involved together or being controlled by the same person there will need to be:

  • Consideration of the need for the applicability of complex abuse procedures;
  • Efforts made to ensure that Strategy Meetings and /or multi-agency planning meetings on different children result in consistent plans;
  • Involvement of the Head of Child Protection or nominated representative.

Any assessment, Strategy Discussion or Section 47 Enquiry need to consider the role and identity of any other adults or young people involved, e.g. parents, pimps, or any individuals who pose a risk of harm to children.

Agencies should also establish whether those who are known to sexually exploit children are parents or carers of children themselves. If this is the case, an assessment of the needs of those children should be completed.

Entry into sexual exploitation may have resulted from a complex set of factors, therefore exiting sexual exploitation is also likely to be complex, particularly where there is a strong dependency relationship with the coercer or abuser, or where there is substance misuse.

Re-establishing contact with wider family networks and re-integration of the child/young person into age appropriate activities and lifestyles are critical features of successful recovery. It is essential that children are supported and understood by their family members.

An exit strategy should be developed with the child and the family which must address the individual needs of the child. Recovery from the abuse is likely to require long term, inter agency services set out clearly in a written multi agency plan.

There is a range of measures that can be taken to protect a child or young person from a particular individual. These range from the light touch harbouring notices to a wide-ranging injunction made in the High Court

The Police can serve a formal warning on individuals known to be exploiting and in contact with the young person. The purpose is to try and stop the contact with a threat of prosecution. If the individual is found with the young person again, the individual cannot claim that they do not know that the young person is underage and claim that they were not aware that they did not have permission to take the young person.

A child abduction notice is used where the young person is not in local authority care. This warns the individual named and served that they will be committing an offence if they remove or keep the young person away from the lawful control of their parent or guardian with parental responsibility for the young person (Child Abduction Act 1984 Section 2).

Before the Police prepare a child abduction notice, they must take a statement from one of the parents or carers. The statement should contain the following information:

  • The name and date of birth of the child concerned;
  • The person malting the statement is the child's parent or guardian with parental responsibility;
  • The child has been banned from seeing, associating and communicating with the individual;
  • The individual has no lawful authority to take, remove, keep or detain the child from their lawful control;
  • The person making the statement supports Police action.

If the young person is in LA care, a harbouring notice can be served instead of a child abduction notice. The harbouring notice will state that the individual will commit an offence if they:

  • Take the young person from the responsible person;
  • Keep the young person away from the responsible person;
  • Induce, assist or incite the young person to run away or stay away from the responsible person.
    (Section 49, CA 1989).

The responsible person is anyone who has care of the young person due to a care order, emergency protection order Or Police protection (section 49(2)).

A harbouring notice can be used with young people who are 16 or 17 years old. It goes further than a child abduction notice as it does not allow the individual to communicate with the young person to lure the young person into leaving a placement. There is also no requirement for a statement to be taken before the harbouring notice can be drawn up and served.

The notice should be served on the individual by the Police. If possible, a social worker should accompany the Police. The individual should be shown a photograph of the young person. This avoids any later argument in a prosecution that the individual did not know who the notice was in relation to.

Another measure that only the Police can take is to apply by complaint to the magistrates' court for a sexual risk order (section122A, Sexual Offences Act 2003). A sexual risk order sets out what the individual cannot do and lasts for a minimum of two years (section 122A(7)). The criteria for a sexual risk order are:

  • The individual has "done an act of a sexual nature";
  • There is reasonable cause to believe a sexual risk order is necessary to protect:
    • The public generally;
    • Children or vulnerable adults generally;
    • Particular members of the public; or
    • Particular children or vulnerable adults outside of the United Kingdom.

    (Section 122A(1) and (6).)

If Police action is either ineffective or unavailable, the LA could consider making an application for an injunction by invoking the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court. The primary purpose is to stop the individual from having any form of direct or indirect contact with the young person concerned. It is unclear whether the remit of an injunction can be so wide as to prevent an individual from having contact with any female under 18 years old in a public place, due to conflicting High Court judgments (Birmingham City Council v Riaz (2014] EWHC 4247 (Pam) and London Borough of Redbridge v SNA (2015) EWHC 2140 (Pam); see Legal updates, Use of inherent jurisdiction to prevent child sex exploitation (High Court) and Inherent jurisdiction protection is for specific child (High Court)).

The Hertfordshire Safeguarding Children Partnership will review services, trends and outcomes with regularity by statistical analysis, case and criminal convictions auditing.

Those who abuse children through sexual exploitation should feel the full force of the law. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 introduced a number of new offences to deal with those who abuse and exploit children in this way. The offences protect children up to the age of 18 and can attract tough penalties. They include:

  • Paying for the sexual services of a child;
  • Causing or inciting child prostitution;
  • Arranging or facilitating child prostitution;
  • Controlling a child prostitute.

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring they receive the appropriate protection and support.

Referring children into the NRM encourages the sharing of information between agencies and can help to ensure an appropriate safeguarding response.

It also helps the UK to collect evidence and build an understanding of the patterns of child trafficking. This helps to shape policy and can aid Police investigations into trafficking.

To be referred to the NRM, potential victims of trafficking must first be referred to one of the UK’s two competent authorities (CA)

In the UK the two CAs are:

  1. The UKHTC, which deals with referrals from the Police, local authorities, and NGOs;
  2. The UK Visas and Immigration Service, which deals with referrals identified as part of the immigration process, for example where trafficking may be an issue as part of an asylum claim.

This initial referral will generally be handled by an authorised agency, such as a Police force, the UKVI, Social Services or some NGOs. The referring authority is known as the ‘first responder’.

The first responder completes a referral form (child in this instance) to pass the case to the CA (Competent Authority). All completed NRM forms are sent to the UKHTC. The UKHTC will then determine which CA will deal with the case and will forward the papers if needed.

Please refer to National Referral Mechanism: guidance for child first responders, which outlines the role of a first responder, the use of children’s services and when and how to refer the child to the national referral mechanism (NRM).

All cases where trafficking is suspected should be referred unless there are clear reasons why this would not be appropriate.

The effects of sexual exploitation are harmful and far reaching for children and young people and the ultimate aim is to prevent them from being exploited in the first place.

For research resources and practice guidance see also: Sexual Exploitation Research and Lobbying, Barnardo's Website.

To ensure professionals can readily identify both those at risk of, and those who are exposed to sexual exploitation, they should familiarise themselves with HSCP guidance.

Professionals who have an enhanced understanding of the risk indicators, needs and increased vulnerability of children and young people, are better able to prevent them falling victim to sexual exploitation.

It is never too late to support a child or young person who is being sexually exploited. If professionals are able to recognise and identify both those at risk of sexual exploitation and those exposed to sexual exploitation, then strategies necessary to reduce and eliminate the risks can be employed.

Sexual exploitation can have a serious impact on the life of children and young people. It can lead to difficulties in forming relationships with others, a lack of confidence or self esteem and can affect their mental and physical health.

Sexual exploitation can create feelings of worthlessness which can lead to acts of self harm, including cutting themselves, overdosing and eating disorders.

Sexual exploitation can put the child or young person at increased risk of sexually transmitted infections including HIV, unwanted pregnancy, abortion, as well as long term sexual and reproductive health problems.

See also: Practice Guidance: Supporting Young People with HIV Testing and Prevention. This practice guidance is for professionals who do not provide HIV testing, treatment or advice as part of their day-to-day work. It is primarily intended for those working outside health settings, such as social workers or voluntary sector practitioners.

Sexual exploitation can also impact on their parenting capacity, now or in the future. Where children or young people manage to recover to some extent from sexual exploitation they will sometimes feel unable to stay in their local area. This can be because of the associations it holds for them (or because of very real threats from their abusers networks) leading to family break-ups and isolation from family and friends.

Sexual exploitation can have profound and damaging consequences for families, including parents and carers, siblings and extended family members. Sexual exploitation may impact on their health, work life, family cohesion, economic stability and social life.

The use of technology can further complicate consequences, where abusive images have been posted on or shared via the internet. Once these images have been distributed in this way there is no control over who can access them, leading to the repeated victimisation.

Targeting and grooming children and young people often has psychological implications for parents and other family members; life becomes difficult to manage and the stress of a situation which they do not understand can lead to despair, limiting their capacity to respond to the needs of their children and to deal with crises that occur as a result of the exploitation.

Parents and carers are often distraught, traumatised and under severe stress. They feel helpless and guilty for not being able to protect their children from sexual predators. They are likely to suffer verbal and physical aggression from the exploited child as well as violence or threats of violence from the perpetrator/s.

Sexual exploitation of their children also places strain on family relationships. Sexual exploitation of one child in the family places other siblings at significant risk of being groomed and exploited. Siblings can be alienated and faced with bullying and their self-esteem and performance affected. Parents, carers and siblings can themselves suffer serious threats of abuse, intimidation and assault at the hands of perpetrators.

Children and young people who are being sexually exploited are the victims of abuse and will be especially vulnerable. This may manifest itself in a number of ways: for example, they may be defensive and reluctant to engage with professionals or they may be dependent on drugs or alcohol, which may affect their view of the situation. See Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.

Agencies should recognise that many children and young people might not think that they want or need protection from sexual exploitation and might be resistant to what they perceive as interference from authorities. Perpetrators groom their victims so that they are compliant to being sexually exploited and are frightened to report their abuse.

Gaining the child or young person's trust and confidence is important if he or she is to be safeguarded from harm and enabled to escape from sexual exploitation. Often the process of engaging with children who are being sexually exploited can be difficult and lengthy and it can take time for professionals to build up trust and overcome their resistance to being helped and supported to exit the abusive situation.

Last Updated: December 7, 2023