Toggle Contrast
Top of Page

33.39 Exploitation

Show amendments


In November 2019 the policy was amended to encompass all forms of expolitation.




Exploitation is now seen in relation to both sexual and criminal exploitation. While much of the national guidance is related to sexual exploitation the presenting risk factors in relation to criminal and sexual exploration are often to the same

Exploitation in the wider definition 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 completing a task on behalf of another individual or group of individuals; this is often of a criminal or sexual nature. Child exploitation 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/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.

The following definition appears in the Department for Education guidance Child sexual exploitation: Definition and a guide for practitioners, local leaders and decision makers working to protect children from child sexual exploitation (February 2017).


"Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology."


There is also often a presumption that children are sexually exploited by people they do not know. However evidence shows that this is often not the case and children are often sexually exploited by people with whom they feel they have a relationship, e.g. a boyfriend/girlfriend. The majoiry of sexual expoliation is hidden from public view.


The following definition of Criminal exploitation comes from Exploitation of children and vulnerable adults: County Lines guidance . Home Office (2018)   


Child Criminal Exploitation is common in county lines and occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, control, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18. The victim may have been criminally exploited even if the activity appears consensual. Child Criminal Exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.

Criminal exploitation of children is broader than just county lines, and includes for instance children forced to work on cannabis farms or to commit theft.


Criminal Exploitation recognises the concern that exists with regard to children and young people who are used, through whatever means, to engage in criminal activity by other young people or adults who are able to coerce them to do so. The young people involved may not identify themselves as being ‘exploited’ as such, but it is clearly to their detriment that they are involved in this type of activity. Children involved in criminal exploitation may not be coming to the attention of law enforcement agencies.

Where children are involved in criminal exploitation through drug dealing, this is not just linked to county lines but may also be linked to local supply lines and criminal groups.



Under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 young people under the age of 18 are deemed to be children and would be considered Children in Need if being exploited.


Children involved in any form of exploitation should be treated primarily as the victims of abuse and their needs carefully assessed; the aim should be to protect them from further harm and they should not be treated as criminals. The primary law enforcement response should be directed at perpetrators who groom children for exploitation.


Due to the nature of the grooming methods used by their abusers, it is very common for children and young people who are exploited not to recognise that they are being abused. Practitioners should be aware that particularly young people aged 17 and 18 may believe themselves to be acting voluntarily and will need practitioners to work with them so they can recognise that they are being exploited.


Preventing child abuse requires a collaborative response and is a shared responsibility. All children thought to be exploited will be the subject of a joint investigation and there is a need for effective joint working between all agencies and professionals.


The prevention of exploitation and intervention with children thought to be at risk of exploitation will be treated with equal importance.


As much as possible it is important that the young person is involved in decisions that are made in respect of them.

Legal Position


Children under the age of 16 cannot lawfully consent to sexual activity.  Anyone engaging in sexual activity with a child under 16 is committing a criminal offence.  Specific serious offences, including rape, apply to anyone engaging in sexual activity with a child under the age of 13 as the child is presumed incapable of consent.


Sections 47 - 50 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 make the following serious criminal offences:

  • Paying for a sexual act involving a child (under 18);
  • Causing or inciting sexual exploitation of a child;
  • Facilitating, buying, possessing or exchanging abusive images of children;
  • Trafficking a child into, out of or around the UK for the purpose of committing a sexual offence. These can even be from one street to the next;
  • Meeting a child following grooming (making contact with the purpose of facilitating a meeting);
  • Administering a substance in the knowledge that the victim does not consent with the intention of stupefying/overpowering so that sexual activity can take place;
  • Kidnapping with the intention of committing a sexual offence.

In exceptional circumstances the use of criminal action can be considered for 16 and 17 year olds involved in sexual exploitation, under the Street Offences Act 1959.


By the nature of criminal exploitation children and young people will be committing criminal offences. In working with the young person where criminal explotation is identified work needs to take place to divert them from the criminal justice system, where appropriate use the National Referral Mechanism under the modern slavery law to divert and protect them.


  • To help the child understand the risks involved in certain activities;
  • To gather evidence and build a prosecution case against those involved in abusing the child;
  • To protect children from further abuse and support them to find ways out of exploitative situations and relationships.

Important Information About Exploitation


Sexual exploitation can take many forms from the seemingly 'consensual' relationship where sex is exchanged for attention, accommodation or gifts, to serious organised crime and child trafficking.


What marks out exploitation is an imbalance of power within the relationship. The perpetrator always holds some kind of power over the victim, increasing the dependence of the victim as the exploitative relationship develops.


Technology can 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. A common factor in all cases is the lack of free economic or moral choice.


Sexual exploitation has strong links with other forms of 'crime', for example, domestic violence, online and offline grooming, the distribution of abusive images of children and child trafficking. Many adults involved in sex work describe difficult childhood experiences that include domestic violence, neglect, emotional abuse, disrupted schooling and low educational attainment.


The perpetrators of exploitation are often well organised and use sophisticated tactics. They are known to target areas where children and young people gather without much adult supervision, e.g. parks or shopping centres or sites on the Internet.

Where a young person is identified as being exploited it should also be considered whether the young person is enslaved to the perpetrator.



Any form of exploitation results in children and young people suffering harm, and causes significant damage to their physical and mental health. It can also have profound and damaging consequences for the child's family. Parents and carers are often traumatised and under severe stress. Siblings can feel alienated and their self-esteem affected. Family members can themselves suffer serious threats of abuse, intimidation and assault at the hands of perpetrators.


Children and young people are more vulnerable to abuse through exploitation if they have experience of:

  • Childhood sexual abuse;
  • Domestic abuse within the family;
  • Family breakdown;
  • Physical and emotional deprivation;
  • Bullying in or out of school;
  • Parents with high level of vulnerabilities (e.g. mental health issues, drug/alcohol misuse);
  • Being looked after in residential care;
  • Unsuitable/inappropriate accommodation/homelessness;
  • Frequently going missing;
  • Isolation from peers/social networks;
  • Lack of positive relationship with protective/nurturing adult.

All agencies, parents and carers must be aware of the following indicative behaviours associated with a child who is experiencing exploitation; however they are not conclusive signs in themselves:

  • Physical symptoms (Sexually Transmitted Infections, chronic fatigue, bruising suggesting assault, pregnancy and/or seeking a termination);
  • Truanting from school/disengagement from education;
  • Acquisition of money, possessions or accounts of social activity with no plausible explanation;
  • Expressions of despair (self-harm, overdose, eating disorder, challenging and/or volatile behaviour, aggression);
  • Drug and alcohol misuse;
  • Reports from reliable sources that a child is being sexually exploited or frequenting known areas of concern;
  • Relationship with a controlling adult/older 'boyfriend', who encourages emotional dependency and controls through violence or threats;
  • Having contact with unknown adults outside the usual range of child's social contacts;
  • Getting into/out of vehicles driven by unknown adults;
  • An adult loitering outside home with the intention of meeting up with the child;
  • Use of mobile phones/emails/internet that causes concern;
  • Missing from home, or persistently leaving home or returning late without permission and no plausible explanation;
  • Returning from being missing looking well-cared for in spite of having no known base;
  • Contact with other young people known to be involved in sexual exploitation.

Exploitation of children includes a combination of:

  • Pull factors: children performing tasks for others resulting in them gaining accommodation, food, gifts, status or a sense of safety, money or drugs; often the hook is through the perpetrator supplying Class B drugs such as cannabis to the child or young person;
  • Push factors: children escaping from situations where their needs are neglected and there is exposure to unsafe individuals, where there is high family conflict or the absence of a primary attachment figure;
  • Control: Brain washing, violence and threats of violence by those exploiting the child particularly when the child or young person is identified by the police, they are expected to take full responsibility for the offences for which they are charged – i.e. possession and supply of illegal substances.

The majority of children or young people who enter into exploitation do so willingly however, their involvement is indicative of coercion or desperation rather than choice. Many young people do not recongise that they are being exploited or that they are at risk. The majority of children who are vulnerable to criminal exploitation are male however; the possibilities of female involvement should not be dismissed. While the majority of those experiencing sexual exploration are female. Perpetrators can often be involved in both criminal and sexual exploitation.



If you suspect that a child or young person is experiencing exploitation or they have made a disclosure to you, your organisation's child protection procedures must be followed and you should make a referral to Children's Social Care - see Making a Referrals Procedure.


Consideration should also be given to referring the child or young person to local services such as the Sussex Central YMCA’s WISE Sexual Exploitation Project.


Children’s Social Care should involve professionals with specialist experience in exploitation as part of the assessment of the child/young person and in the Strategy Discussion. Where there is a concern regarding a child or young person’s level of risk of involvement in exploitation, professionals should consider using the exploitation risk assessment framework to determine a level of intervention.

Assessment of risk outside the home (contextual safeguarding)


Contextual Safeguarding is an approach to understanding, and responding to, young people’s experiences of significant harm beyond their families. It recognises that the different relationships that young people form in their neighbourhoods, schools and online can feature violence and abuse.

These extra-familial threats might arise at school and other educational establishments, from within peer groups, or more widely from within the wider community and/or online. These threats can take a variety of different forms and children can be vulnerable to multiple threats, including: exploitation by criminal gangs and organised crime groups such as county lines; trafficking; online abuse; teenage relationship abuse; sexual exploitation and the influences of extremism leading to radicalisation. Extremist groups make use of the internet to radicalise and recruit and to promote extremist materials. Any potential harmful effects to individuals identified as vulnerable to extremist ideologies or being drawn into terrorism should also be considered.

Parents and carers have little influence over these contexts, and young people’s experiences of extra-familial abuse can undermine parent-child relationships.

Therefore children’s social care practitioners need to engage with and recognise individuals, spaces and sectors who do have influence over the young person, within extra-familial contexts, and recognise that assessment of, and intervention with, these spaces are a critical part of safeguarding practices.

Contextual Safeguarding, therefore, expands the objectives of child protection systems in recognition that young people are vulnerable to abuse in a range of social contexts. Contextual Safeguarding Network Briefing



An adult begging for money may be accompanied by a child (who may or may not be her/his own) whose role is to invoke public sympathy. A child may also beg alone or appear to be so doing.

It is not the activity itself, but rather the consequent risks that determine if a child protection response is required. Considerations should include age of the child, degree of adult supervision, time of day etc.

Activities such as 'penny for the guy', 'trick or treat' or carol singing are not normally regarded as begging if arrangements are age appropriate and effectively supervised.

It is the responsibility of the police to:

  • Deal with the offence of begging;
  • Establish the identity and address of any involved child;
  • Refer her/him to the Children's Social Care for the area in which s/he lives.

If there are immediate risks to the child, the referral must be made to the Children's Services where they are found.

The normal procedures described in chapters on  Making a referal  Section 47 Enquiries, Chapter 5, apply. Amulti-agency Strategy Discussion and Section 47 Enquiry should be initiated if information available indicates that the begging:

  • Presents immediate risks to the child's safety; or
  • Indicates that the child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm.

Intervention and Support


Agencies should recognise that there may be a strong relationship between the child and the coercer/abuser and it may be difficult for the child to break this relationship.


A strategy should therefore be developed, with the child and family wherever possible, to address the child's needs and help him or her to move on from the exploitative situation. It could include specialist therapeutic support, mentoring to assist a return to education or employment, outreach work, help to secure appropriate health services, and assistance to develop a positive network of friends and relatives.

The particular circumstances of the child should be taken into account in developing the multi -agency response and the plan for services should be tailored to meet their specific needs, e.g. whether they are Looked After and/or preparing to leave care, not receiving a suitable education, often missing from home or care, may have been trafficked and/or may be affected by gang activity.

Identifying and Prosecuting Perpetrators


Identifying, disrupting and prosecuting perpetrators are key parts of work to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people from exploitation.


While the police and criminal justice agencies lead on this, the support of all partners in gathering and recording information/evidence is vital. All those involved in caring for a child who is suspected to be at risk of exploitation should continually gather, record and share information, as appropriate, to this end. Parents and carers should be encouraged and supported to do so, ensuring that information is recorded in such a way that it can be used by the Crown Prosecution Service and accepted in Court.


Where a young person wants and is able to be part of a prosecution, it is essential that they are supported through this process and after the prosecution has taken place. Many of the issues facing young victims and witnesses are addressed in a CPS 2006 Policy Document on Prosecuting Cases Involving Children and Young People as Victims and Witnesses.

The Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme


The Child Sex Offender Review (CSOR) Disclosure Scheme is designed to provide members of the public with a formal mechanism to ask for disclosure about people they are concerned about, who have unsupervised access to children and may therefore pose a risk. This scheme builds on existing, well established third-party disclosures that operate under the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA).


Police will reveal details confidentially to the person most able to protect the child (usually parents, carers or guardians) if they think it is in the child’s interests.


The scheme has been operating in all 43 Police areas in England and Wales since 2010. The scheme is managed by the Police and information can only be accessed through direct application to them.


If the person is unwilling to sign the undertaking, the police must consider whether the disclosure should still take place.


If a disclosure is made, the information must be kept confidential and only used to keep the child in question safe. Legal action may be taken if confidentiality is breached. A disclosure is delivered in person (as opposed to in writing) with the following warning:

  • That the information must only be used for the purpose for which it has been shared i.e. in order to safeguard children;
  • The person to whom the disclosure is made will be asked to sign an undertaking that they agree that the information is confidential and they will not disclose this information further;
  • A warning should be given that legal proceedings could result if this confidentiality is breached. This should be explained to the person and they must sign the undertaking’ (Home Office, 2011, p16).

lscb-logo 01273 481544
wsscb-logo 0330 222 5296
bhlscb-logo 01273 292379

This page is correct as printed on Thursday 23rd of September 2021 01:31:38 AM please refer back to this website ( for updates.