Child exploitation refers to the exploitation of any child or young person under the age of 18.

Exploitation can happen to any child regardless of their age, gender, background, socio-economic status, religion or culture. It occurs across all communities in the UK and whilst some children have additional vulnerabilities, any child can be targeted.

Perpetrators can be male or female, from any or all backgrounds, communities and religions.

There is no ‘typical perpetrator’ model and no ‘typical victim’ model.

Child exploitation can take many forms, such as sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation, radicalisation, modern slavery and child trafficking. Often children are subjected to more than one form of exploitation at a time.

Please remember that a child cannot consent to their own exploitation.

A child may not consider themselves as a victim, the child may think that they have a free and open choice and are consenting to the criminal activity from free will. The child may be subjected to several external factors called push and pull factors that they are unaware of:

Push factors

Push factors are vulnerabilities that can push the young person away from their home and towards the perpetrator:

  • Children who have been the victim of physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and/or neglect in their home.
  • Children from households where domestic violence and abuse between parents has been a feature.
  • Children of parents with a high level of vulnerabilities of their own (e.g. drug and/or alcohol misuse, mental illness, learning disability, their own history of an abusive childhood)
  • Family breakdown / disrupted family life / problematic parenting
  • Children who have physical or learning impairments
  • Children who are in, or leaving care
  • Bereavement, loss, isolation from peers, low self esteem
  • Links to gangs through relatives or peers

Pull factors

Pull factors are the grooming techniques used to gain the child’s attention and admiration that often involves the child’s insecurities or their desire for acceptance. These can include:

  • Status or respect that the child hasn’t historically found in their day-to-day life
  • The child may seek protection from peers who threaten harm to them or their families, or general protection (e.g. to stop being mugged on the streets for their phone again)
  • Friendship, attention or affection, someone making the child feel special, valued, noticed or loved.
  • Receiving gifts that the child wants such as drugs, alcohol, money, clothing
  • Receiving something the child needs such as a safe place to stay, a sense of belonging or a brotherhood or something to fill spare time (e.g. if the child is excluded from education or has a reduced timetable with nothing else to engage them in school hours)
  • Being given lifts, taken to new places, going to parties and meeting perceived exciting new grown up people who appear to consider the child as very mature for their age

When considering these push and pull factors, the pull factors may be difficult for the child to refuse or reject, particularly if there is no replacement offered. Children in the early stages of exploitation may consider themselves in a rewarding relationship or positive place and not understand that they are victims or are being abused.

The language we use when discussing children at risk of child exploitation is extremely important as this language may be inadvertently victim blaming or imply that the child is responsible for the crimes that have happened to them. Such language and terminology may find its way into formal case notes, statutory meetings or a courtroom where a perpetrator is on trial. Please remember that children may be present at such trials or may access their case files in later life and will hear and read the terms that professionals used to describe their abuse.

Please review the NPCC and Victim Support guide to appropriate language to reflect on your terminology.