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Gut Instinct

Whether you’re concerned about your own relationship, or worried about someone else, it’s important to remember that child sexual exploitation can happen without the victim realising.

Child sexual exploitation doesn’t have to involve having sex with someone. It could be touching, kissing, or someone asking the young person to send sexual photos to their phone or post them online. Whatever it is, if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t – and anyone at risk should rely on their gut instinct to tell them.

Two teens looking at each other

Even if the young person affected has ‘gone along with’ the sexual activity, it’s not their fault. They may feel they have to go along with things they are not comfortable with – perhaps because they believe they ‘should’, because they need whatever is being offered in return (like food or a place to stay), or because they’re scared of what will happen if they don’t.

People who exploit children and young people in this way may:

  • threaten to end the relationship if the young person doesn’t have sex
  • ask the young person to (or make them) have sex with other people
  • expect sex in return for food or a place to stay
  • share drugs or alcohol with the young person in return for sexual acts
  • threaten to stop being friends if the young person doesn’t perform sexual ‘dares’
  • give the young person gifts or money in return for sexual acts
  • ask the young person to take sexual photos of themselves and share them online or by text
  • threaten to humiliate or share sexual images of the young person if they don’t carry out more sexual acts
  • be violent towards the young person
  • they may threaten to harm the young person's family/loved ones.

Who can help?

Sadly, many young people are too frightened to ask for help because they fear they might not be believed or they’ll get into trouble. They may have been made to feel that because they have accepted gifts, or attention, they ‘owe’ something in return. They may also be threatened with, or subjected to, violence. They have often been manipulated to feel that what is happening is their fault. Some young people do not even realise what is happening to them.

At Barnardo’s, our project workers actively seek out young people who are at risk of sexual exploitation, offering them the long-term support they need. Many other organisations can also provide specialist help.

Barnardo’s are my family and thanks to them I’ve turned my life around.