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Child sexual exploitation

Young woman at risk of sexual exploitation

Child sexual exploitation is a major child protection issue across the UK. Hidden from view and going unnoticed, vulnerable young girls and boys are groomed and then abused, leaving them traumatised and scarred for life.  

If you think that a child is in immediate danger please dial 999. If you are a child or young person who needs help, please call Childline on 0800 11 11.

Alternatively, please call 0808 800 5000 to discuss your concerns with the NSPCC 24 Hour Child Protection Helpline.

Watch our short video about identifying the tell-tale signs of abuse and practical steps that you can take to protect children in your life.

What is Child Sexual Exploitation?

Child sexual exploitation is when children and young people receive something (such as food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, or money) as a result of performing, and/or others performing on them, sexual activities. Child sexual exploitation can occur through the use of the internet or on mobile phones. In all cases, those exploiting the child or young person have power over them because of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or resources. For victims, the pain of their ordeal and fear that they will not be believed means they are too often scared to come forward.

How many are affected in the UK?

  • Child sexual exploitation is a hidden issue, so we can only go on estimates from national levels of service provision, including our own. Last year Barnardo's services worked with 1,940 children and young people who had been sexually exploited.
  • The true number of children who are victims of sexual exploitation is likely to be much higher. For victims, the pain of their ordeal and fear that they will not be believed means they are too often scared to come forward.

Risks faced by children?

  • Children at risk of sexual exploitation are some of the most vulnerable in our society. Many have experienced abandonment or have suffered from physical and mental abuse. They need help but don’t know where to look.
  • Younger victims are being targeted. In one month alone, Barnardo’s services worked with 126 children aged 10 to 13 who had been subjected to sexual exploitation.
  • Perpetrators of these crimes are becoming increasingly sophisticated, using the internet to protect their identity and trafficking children around the country to avoid detection.

The services Barnardo’s provide

  • Barnardo’s is the largest provider of child sexual exploitation support services in the UK. Last year we worked with 1,940 victims through 29 specialist services.
  • Our services work hard to identify and reach out to young people at risk in the community. By showing concern and building trust, our staff help children to break free of abusive and exploitative relationships.
  • Staffed by qualified professionals, these services provide a safe and confidential environment where young people can go for help, advice and support. Children are offered a range of therapeutic interventions including one-to- one counselling, group-work sessions and drop-in support.
  • Services raise awareness of child sexual exploitation in their local area, working with schools and others to deliver preventative education programmes and providing specialist training to professionals so they know what signs to look out for.

Read stories of how we help to transform the lives of sexually exploited children.

Barnardo’s has teamed up with MP for Rotherham Sarah Champion to conduct a parliamentary inquiry into child sexual exploitation and trafficking within the UK. The inquiry aims to shine a light on these terrible crimes and what the authorities are doing to protect and support victims. The inquiry was launched on 20th November 2013 to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act and will test how effectively the legislation is working.

Help us tackle child sexual exploitation – join our campaign.

Some of our services offering support to sexually exploited children