Ending Child Sexual Exploitation For Better Lives

Child sexual exploitation affects at least 1 in 20 children under eighteen in the UK [NSPCC, 2021]. It occurs when someone tricks or forces kids into doing sexual things in return for something they need or want, or for the benefit of the person doing it.

This awful crime takes away children’s childhood and can cause lasting physical, emotional, and psychological problems.

In the UK, many children are sexually used every year.

We are still learning how big this problem is as we discover grooming gangs and online exploitation networks all over the country.

Even though more victims are starting to speak up, there are still many cases that have not been found or reported yet.

In this article, we will talk about what child sexual exploitation is, why kids are at risk, and the laws in the UK to protect them.

By learning more about this, we aim to encourage action to stop this abuse.

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This abuse often happens when:
  • The child does sexual acts to get what they need, like food, money, drugs, alcohol, gifts, or love.
  • The person doing wrong has power over the young person, making it hard for them to agree freely (like if they are famous, a lot older, or part of a gang).
  • The person uses tricks to control children, like being nice, making threats, or making them rely on them (even by pretending to help the family to get to the child).
  • The person forces or controls the young person, so they cannot freely decide about sexual stuff.

In the UK, it is against the law for anyone to do sexual acts with someone under sixteen. It is seen as rape or assault because legally, children under sixteen cannot say ‘yes’ to that, even if they think they can.

Making or making older teens under eighteen do things they do not want to do such as sex talk is also a big crime.

Scale of the Problem in the UK

Recent studies have shown that child sexual exploitation is a disturbingly big issue across the UK, having been allowed to thrive for years unchecked in many communities.

Recent data analysis of police records shows a 10% increase in child sexual exploitation crimes in the past year.

In England and Wales during 2021/22, police recorded 17,486 such crimes, averaging to forty-eight offenses daily. NSPCC Post

Around 100,000 people in the UK are believed to have been hurt, and about 16,500 cases were reported last year, according to the police.

Barnardo’s charity deals with more than 1,000 known bad situations every year.

The NWG Network, a group helping with child problems, has found around 3,300 victims in the last 6 months through referrals in Britain.

Surprisingly, over a third of sexual abuse for those under eighteen is believed to come from friends. Often, older kids push around younger ones through peer pressure or gangs, and this abuse often goes unnoticed.

These numbers only show the cases we know about or guess.

What experts say

Many experts working on the front lines to help children think the real numbers are even higher because lots of CSE still go unnoticed.

Some well-known situations recently involved groups of people in Asian communities causing harm to girls in places like Rotherham, Rochdale, and Oxford.

This made the government pay more attention to the issue. But child sexual exploitation can happen in any community, and trying to label victims or wrongdoers based on their background is not helpful and does not work.

About a third of the people Barnardo’s helps with these problems are boys, for instance. People causing harm can be of any age, gender, race, or background, just like the people they exploit.

Online grooming has increased a lot in the last few years, mainly through messaging apps and social media.

In 2020, when everyone was stuck at home because of Covid-19, the UK’s National Crime Agency said there was twice as much harmful material being shared online compared to the year before.

This happened because more people who want to hurt others took advantage of young people spending more time online while stuck at home.

These numbers show we still have a lot of work to do to find out how much of this children exploitation is really happening and to stop these terrible groups in our communities.

But by teaching people, being watchful, and giving young people better protection, we can make progress.

Conditions that Make Children a Big Targets

Sadly, those who exploit children for sex often target ones they see as easy to control and less likely to be believed if they speak up.

Victims usually share common problems that these criminals use to their advantage:

Kids who have had a tough time in care or have been let down by services before might not feel like they can share their worries, thinking they will not be heard or believed again.

Spotting the Signs of Abuse and Exploitation

Being aware and watchful around our young people is crucial for stopping exploitation early. Signs to pay attention to include:

  • Being very secretive: Especially about friends or where they are, especially online.
  • Hanging out with older people or antisocial groups: Including gangs.
  • Missing a lot of school or being away from home for a long time: Without a clear reason.
  • Getting lots of messages or calls from unknown numbers: Especially on their phone.
  • Having expensive things: Like new clothes, tech gifts, or possessions that seem too fancy for their age or means.
  • Dealing with sexual health issues: Like being too young for those problems, getting pregnant, or having terminations.
  • Misusing drugs or alcohol.
  • Changes in emotions: Like becoming quiet, upset, or talking about wanting to hurt themselves.
  • Physical signs of assault or inappropriate sexual behaviour.

Of course, some of these things can be normal for teenagers, but big changes in a kid’s life or personality should make us have deeper talks before things get worse.

If we have open, non-judgmental talks with young people about good relationships early on and keep talking with them, hopefully, they will feel comfortable discussing any worries.

Exploitation can be sneaky, and kids might not realize they are victims at first.

Creating a stable and supportive environment where they know they can always get help is important.

Relevant Legislation Protecting Children

The UK has recently made laws and started some important plans specifically to deal with child sexual abuse and to treat victims more kindly in the justice system:

These laws show that the government is taking good steps to fight these awful crimes. They are punishing the people responsible and giving more help.

Safeguarding and Intervention Procedures

In the UK, every place or group that works with kids has had strict rules in place since the 1970s to keep young people safe from various kinds of harm.

This includes schools, hospitals, doctors, police, social services, charities, youth centres, and more.

People in roles that involve keeping kids safe are carefully checked and trained to notice if a child might be in danger of being hurt.

While there might be some variations in procedures across regions, most areas follow these inter-agency safeguarding steps:

If things get more serious at any point, the child might be placed in emergency foster care or residential care right away to keep them safe. This can happen under police powers or by court order.

For cases where the risk is lower, and abuse is not confirmed yet, but the family situation could still improve, child services start Initial Assessments into households.

They then offer appropriate Early Help services, like parenting classes, therapy for addiction, or support with housing.

These systems show how seriously all institutions in the UK take keeping our young people safe.

There are multiple chances for diverse groups to step in before things reach criminal investigations or major actions like taking kids away from their families.

The focus is always on preventing problems early instead of just reacting, with the child’s best interests and feelings at the center of tough decisions.

Four Forms of Child Exploitation and Prevention

Child exploitation is still a sad problem, both in the UK and around the world.

This term includes unusual ways that bad people take away a child’s safety, respect, and their time being a kid for their own selfish reasons.

Even though cultural practices can be involved, most of the time, it happens because of desperation and chances for the bad guys.

If we work on fixing the main reasons that make children exposed to harm and keep them away from dangers, we can greatly decrease the bad people’s access to them.

What is sexual exploitation and child abuse?

Sexual exploitation of children is when someone makes kids do sexual things by using force or tricks, and they might get something they need or want in return.

This is for the gain of the person doing it.

This might include stuff like money, food, a place to stay, drugs, alcohol, gifts, or being nice to them. It does not always mean touching, and it can happen online.

This means when an adult or someone in charge gets a minor involved in sexual activities.

It could be non-contact things like grooming, exploitation, pushing kids to do sexual things online, or showing them adult materials.

It could also be contact things like touching, sex, abuse through prostitution, or adult content.

Child sexual abuse is against the law because a minor cannot give full agreement, even if the child agrees or understands.

Also, any sexual act between a child and an adult family member, even without force, is seen as abuse. All sexual activity involving a child is considered abuse.

What are the signs that a child is being sexually abused?

Some common signs that a child may be suffering sexual abuse:

If a child is showing signs of physical or emotional abuse, it is important to report your concerns to child protection services immediately so the child’s safety can be evaluated.

With real support, even children who have endured sexual abuse can recover and heal emotionally.

What laws came before the Children and Social Work Act 2017 in the UK, and what do they mean?

Here is a brief history of key child protection acts in the UK prior to the Children and Social Work Act 2017:

1. Children Act 1989

  • Fundamental legislation establishing vital child welfare and protection structures still followed today.
  • Laid out local authorities duties to investigate and support families where child is at risk of harm.
  • Established concept of acting in ‘best interests of the child.’
  • Created a comprehensive framework for agencies working together for child safety under local safeguarding children boards.

2. Children Act 2004

  • Created role of Children’s Commissioner to represent interests of young people across England, especially vulnerable groups.
  • Required local agencies cooperate fighting problems affecting children like crime and unhealthy lifestyles through Children’s Trust Boards.
  • Established databases helping different authorities share information regarding children at risk of harm.

3. Children and Families Act 2014

  • Reformed adoption process for easier placement of children in care with new families.
  • Gave carers rights to reasonable support from local agencies.
  • Strengthened rights of young people with special educational needs.

These laws laid the basis for how separate groups work together to keep children safe in the UK.

They set rules for sharing information and provided support for carers.

They also stressed the importance of quick communication between teachers, doctors, police, social workers, and courts to help vulnerable children.

The Children and Social Work Act 2017 aimed to further improve accountability and consistency in this complex child welfare system.

What is the difference between child exploitation and child abuse?

The key differences between child exploitation and child abuse are:

So, the main difference is why the adult does it:

  • Using: To get something for themselves.
  • Hurting: To make the kid feel bad.

Exploitation (taking advantage) is a deal where someone benefits at the expense of another person, and abuse is about causing harm for several reasons.

Both hurt children and go against their rights, even without physical contact.

Even if a child seems to agree, they cannot legally agree to adults in these situations.

What is the UN Strategy on sexual exploitation and abuse?

The United Nations says a firm “NO” to sexual abuse by anyone associated with them. They have a special plan to tackle it called the ‘Strategy on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.’

Here is what the plan aims to do:


Eliminate all sexual abuse by people linked to the UN, no matter where it happens in the world. This is to make sure everyone is treated fairly and safely, aligning with the UN’s principles.

Who it applies to:

Not just individuals directly working for the UN but also anyone they provide money or assistance to. These groups are required to have plans in place to prevent abuse.

It is crucial to remember that everyone deserves respect and safety, and the UN is taking a strong stance against sexual abuse.

How to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse

These are some of the ways we can stop abuse altogether.

 Here’s What We Can Do:


  • Kids – body safety, healthy relationships, and recognising abuse.
  • Adults – spotting grooming behaviours in children.
  • Everyone – how to identify signs of exploitation.

Block access:

  • Thorough background checks for childcare workers.
  • Limit alone time with children, especially online.
  • Monitor online activity for suspicious connections.

Solve root causes:

  • Help families in poverty and provide support.
  • Offer counseling for past victims of abuse.
  • Build safe and caring communities.

Create safe spaces:

  • Promote open communication so children feel heard.
  • Build positive community connections for everyone.

Punish offenders:

  • Prosecute predators and apply zero tolerance.
  • Ban convicted offenders from working with children.


  • Stop abuse across all levels, from individuals to governments.
  • Fight harmful attitudes that normalize abuse.
  • Promote speaking out against injustice.
  • Together, we can create safer environments for everyone.


To sum up, recent investigations have shown that child sexual exploitation is a widespread and harmful problem in British society.

But if everyone – the government, people who help right away, experts, local communities, families, and watchful citizens – all work together, we have the best chance of finding these cases quickly and stopping the people who are harming our country’s children.

The good news is that there have been positive changes in making stricter punishments for people who hurt children and making sure that places that are supposed to keep kids safe must work together.

But it is super important that everyone keeps working together to find every possible child who might be in trouble and stop the people causing harm early on.

Most importantly, we need to give our children the knowledge to recognise when something is wrong and make sure they know that if they speak up, they will get support, be believed, and be kept safe.

When kids are brave and tell the truth, it can stop terrible things from happening that usually go unnoticed.

If this article has affected you or if you are worried about a child you know, please do not hesitate to contact the police or social services for help.

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