Quick Exit

Exploitation of Children

There are many ways in which vulnerable children and adults can be exploited. Here, we will look at some of the types of exploitation and how you can support someone you think may be at risk of being exploited.

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is defined by the Department for Education as 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.”

Types of CSE

Abusers ‘groom’ a child for sexual exploitation by breaking down defences to gain trust or forming an emotional relationship with them. There are different models of grooming:

  • Organised/Networked CSE (Trafficking): Young people are trafficked through networks, locally and across the country, and coerced or forced into having sex, often with multiple men. This may take place at “parties” and often involves drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Peer on peer – Young people befriend other young people and make them believe they are in a loving ‘relationship’ or friendship and then coerce them to have sex with friends or associates.
  • Inappropriate relationships – The abuser has inappropriate power or control over a young person (physical, emotional or financial).
  • Boyfriend – The abuser grooms a young person into a ‘relationship’ and makes them think they are a couple, but then coerces or forces them to have sex with friends or associates
  • Gang – Gangs can use sex to exert power and control over members, for example, for initiation, in exchange for status or protection, to entrap rival gang members or use sexual assault as a weapon in conflict.

    Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE)

    Child Criminal Exploitation is where children are groomed to commit crimes. Often this is as part of a gang, which children are groomed and manipulated into joining. The NSPCC has lots of information about signs to look for, what the dangers of CCE are for children and what to do if you’re worried about a child you think may be involved in CCE.

    One major way in which children are criminally exploited is their involvement in County Lines. County Lines is the police term for urban gangs supplying drugs to suburban areas and market and coastal towns. It is a form of criminal exploitation and involves gangs and organised drug networks grooming and exploiting children to sell drugs. Often these children are made to travel across counties, and they use dedicated mobile phone ‘lines’ to supply drugs – this is where the term ‘county lines’ comes from. This is a major safeguarding issue and is happening in Wiltshire and across the country. Professionals and the wider community need to be able to spot the signs and know how to respond to and report concerns.

    What are the signs of CCE and County Lines?

    • Returning home late, staying out all night or going missing
    • Being found in areas away from home
    • Increasing drug use, or being found to have large amounts of drugs on them
    • Being secretive about who they are talking to and where they are going
    • Unexplained absences from school, college, training or work
    • Unexplained money, phone(s), clothes or jewellery
    • Increasingly disruptive or aggressive behaviour
    • Using sexual, drug-related or violent language you wouldn’t expect them to know
    • Coming home with injuries or looking particularly dishevelled
    • Having hotel cards or keys to unknown places

    Watch this video to find out how children can become criminally exploited:


        HM Government Prevent Strategy 2011 defines Radicalisation as:

        “the process by which people come to support terrorism and extremism and, in some cases, to then participate in terrorist groups”.

        The radicalisation of children and young people is a growing concern, and is another way in which children can be exploited. Please see our page on radicalisation for more information on this, and what you can do to support a child you think is at risk of being radicalised.

        Risk Outside the Home

        To help children and young people who may be exploited, Wiltshire has adopted a contextual safeguarding approach known as ‘Risk Outside the Home’ (ROTH). This means working with multi-agency partners to identify and respond to the risks children face outside of their families, which may mean they are more likely to be victims of exploitation.

        Following a successful trial of this approach as part of Wiltshire’s pilot work with the Contextual Safeguarding Team at the University of Bedfordshire, we are now looking to embed this approach as a way of working across the whole system. In working together to identify patterns, themes and trends in the communities, it is hoped that more children will be protected from the potential risks they face from outside their home. As well as this response to individual children at risk of harm outside the home, Wiltshire have also developed Safer Young People multi-agency meetings to identify, assess, plan and intervene in the places and spaces where young people are at risk, with the aim of increasing safety in these spaces.

        Wiltshire is developing a new Risk Outside the Home form for organisations to use in helping them not only identify the type of exploitation a child may be at risk of, but also the extent of that risk and where it is occurring. This form is expected to be available in Spring 2022 and will be displayed here, alongside a guidance document and ROTH pathway to help professionals know where they can seek the most appropriate support for any young people they are concerned about.

        Children who go missing

        Children who go missing are at greater risk of being exploited. Wiltshire has developed a new Children Missing from Home and Care protocol which can be used by professionals to know how to respond and where you can go for support, for a child you are concerned about who goes missing.

        What should you do if you are concerned about a child?

        • Any practitioner working with a child who they think may be at risk of criminal exploitation should follow their local safeguarding guidance and refer concerns to the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) mash@wiltshire.gov.uk or 0300456 0108.
        • You can also use Wiltshire Council’s Risk Outside the Home form which will be available from Spring 2022.
        • If you believe a person is in immediate risk of harm, you should contact the police on 999.
        • If there is no immediate risk, you can also share information or concerns by contact the police on 101 if you want or complete their Partner Agency information Sharing Form.
        • Guidance on capturing and reporting intelligence can be found here: Capturing and reporting intelligence: child sexual and /or criminal exploitation
        • Contact your local Police Community Coordinator North East South West who deal with local policing responses and they can highlight issues in weekly police tasking meetings
        • You can also read Wiltshire’s Children Missing from Home and Care protocol 2022, which will help you know what to do if you are concerned about a child who goes missing

        Further Guidance and Resources

        For further details on all the types of exploitation outlined above, see the Resource Hub