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Think about all your different relationships

They could be with close friends, a boyfriend or girlfriend – and maybe groups of friends from school or the area you live in.

As we grow up, we develop relationships with lots of different people.  It’s how we learn to enjoy healthy relationships, and that’s a great skill to have.

But things can go wrong along the way, and people might try to take advantage of you, forcing you into dangerous situations before you know it.

That’s why you need to be aware of warning signs that someone may want to exploit you – and to be very careful who you trust.

Sexual exploitation – how much do you know?

Sexual exploitation can be hard to recognize because you often believe you’re in a good relationship with the person – or people – who want to abuse your trust in them.

It could be a friend, or group of friends. It could be someone you think of as a boyfriend or girlfriend. It could be a person or a new group of people you’ve only just got to know. It could be someone you’ve talked to online.

But whoever it is, they could use clever ways to take advantage of your relationship – and that means you can be harmed almost before you know what’s going on. For example. Someone might give you money, drugs, alcohol, gifts or somewhere to stay and then force you to do one or more of these things in return:

  • Have sex with them
  • Do something sexual to them
  • Be touched inappropriately, in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable
  • Look at sexual images including films or pictures
  • Watch them do something sexual, including having sex or touching themselves sexually.

That’s why it’s so important to look for the warning signs that someone’s behavior towards you may not be all it seems.

Who can you trust?

It’s not always easy to tell.

Sexual exploitation can happen to you, no matter what your gender, age or background – so you need to be careful who you trust.

And that means looking out for warning signs that someone might want to take advantage of you, whether you’ve recently met them or they belong to an existing group of friends.

One warning sign is when someone tries to get to know you better by giving you lots of attention and making you feel really special. They might buy you gifts or involve you in activities that seem exciting or fun.

It becomes a problem if that person starts to try ways of controlling you, such as making promises they can’t keep, threatening you, or even becoming violent if you don’t do what they want.

They might also try and isolate you from your friends, family and other people who care for you. When this happens, it’s easier for an abuser to put you in dangerous situations or force you to do things you don’t want to do – with them or other people they know.

That’s not doing you a favour – that’s exploitation.

Sadly, individuals who have fewer people looking out for them are even more vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

So be aware, stay alert and keep safe – use our tips to protect yourself from exploitation.

Three top tips to keep safe

  1. Trust yourself to know when something is wrong. If someone makes you feel unsafe, pressured or frightened, follow your instincts and seek help.
  2. Don’t’ trust people you don’t know, even if they seem friendly – and make sure you know who you are talking to online. Never give away personal details or agree to meet someone who you have only talked to online.
  3. Don’t be tricked into doing things that are unsafe, even if they seem like fun. What might look exciting at first could be more dangerous than you realise.

When should you suspect sexual exploitation?

Significant Risk Indicators

  • Periods of going missing over night or longer
  • Older ‘boyfriend/relationship with controlling adult (male or female)
  • Physical abuse and/or emotional abuse by controlling adult
  • Entering/leaving vehicles driven by unknown adults (not car theft)
  • Unexplained amounts of money, expensive clothes or other items
  • Frequenting areas know for risky activities
  • Groomed/abused via the internet

Moderate Risk Indicators

  • Staying out late
  • Exclusion/absences from school or not engaged on school/college/training/work
  • Multiple callers – Unknown adults/older young people
  • Physical injuries without plausible explanation
  • Sexually transmitted infections/Pregnancies/termination of pregnancies
  • Drugs Misuse
  • Alcohol Misuse
  • Expressions of despair (self harming/ challenging behaviours/suicide attempts/eating disorders/aggression)
  • Use of a mobile phone which causes concern
  • Use of internet which causes concern
  • Disclosure of sexual/physical assault followed by withdrawal of allegation
  • Has been sexually assaulted
  • Risky sexual behaviour
  • Sexually inappropriate behaviour
  • Peers involved in sexual exploitation/risky or concerning behaviours
  • Living independently and failing to respond to attempts by workers to keep in touch

Vulnerability Factors

  • Low self esteem
  • Lack of awareness/understanding of being safe
  • Unsuitable/inappropriate accommodation
  • Isolated from peers/family/social networks
  • Lack of positive relationship with a protective/nurturing adult
  • Sexual abuse (during childhood)
  • History of Local Authority Care
  • Involvement in criminal activities
  • Breakdown of family relationships
  • Emotional/physical abuse and/or neglect by parent/carer/family member
  • Family history of domestic abuse
  • Family history of substance misuse