Girl who has experienced exploitation online sits beside Barnardo's worker, smiling

Open letter on the need for support for children who experience criminal and sexual exploitation

Published on
13 September 2023

On 13th September 2023 we will hand a petition with over 20,000 signatures to the Rt Hon Alex Chalk KC MP, Secretary of State for Justice.

The signatories are calling on the Government to take action through the Victims and Prisoners Bill to ensure that all child victims of criminal and sexual exploitation are able to access specific support services to safeguard and support them.

Dear Secretary of State,

Alongside 20,136 members of the public, we urge you to take action through the Victims and Prisoners Bill to ensure that all child victims of criminal and sexual exploitation are able to access specific support services to safeguard and support them. 

All too often child victims of exploitation are left alone to cope with the abuse they have experienced, receiving little to no help. We know that tens of thousands of children experience child sexual and criminal exploitation each year; but this is just the tip of the iceberg, with many more children left unidentified and unsupported.

The services that child victims need are simply not there. We know that more than two thirds of local authorities (68%) do not commission any services for child victims of sexual or criminal exploitation while this is the case for almost four in ten (39%) of Police and Crime Commissioners.

This comes at a time when the cost-of-living crisis is having a severe impact on children and families, and we know that additional stresses and pressures can increase the risk of child exploitation – as we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic. Frontline practitioners are telling us they see children who are coerced into criminal and/or sexual activity as families struggle to afford essential items. Criminal gangs will groom and exploit children, by providing them with small gifts such as vapes or a Subway sandwich, which then turn into debts which need to be repaid through criminal activity. Realistic ‘job’ adverts on social media are also being used by criminals to lure children who want to provide financial income for their family into criminal activity.

We are concerned that the summer holidays will have only exacerbated this further, with parents and carers struggling to cover the costs of activities, and having to take on more shifts or longer working hours to help make ends meet.

The Bill offers an opportunity to address the lack of support for child victims of abuse and exploitation, but currently fails to bring about any meaningful change. As organisations working with and for children, many of us have joined together over the last year to call for the Bill to be dramatically improved as it fails to recognise children as victims in their own right and provides no assurances that child victims will have guaranteed access to support services that they need.

We are calling on the Government to use the Victims and Prisoners Bill to place a duty on the relevant authorities to commission sufficient and specific support for children and young people who are victims of crime, including abuse and exploitation, regardless of whether they are engaged in the criminal justice process. This must be accompanied by a package of funding for commissioners to enable them to fulfil a new duty.

Support services specifically for child victims - such as therapeutic and counselling services, mental health services, and advocacy services - can play a vital role in supporting and safeguarding children who are at risk of experiencing or have experienced sexual and/or criminal exploitation. This includes helping them to identify and understand that they have been exploited, and to come to terms with their abuse.

Child victims of exploitation cannot afford to be left any longer without access to these vital services – we hope you look again at amending the Victims and Prisoners Bill to provide child victims with a vital lifeline.

Yours sincerely,

Lynn Perry MBE, Chief Executive, Barnardo’s

Sir Peter Wanless, CEO, NSPCC  

Mark Russell, CEO, The Children’s Society

Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive, National Children’s Bureau

The Baroness Bertin

The Baroness Prashar

Baroness Gohir of Hall Green

The Lord Polak

Robert Buckland MP

Sarah Champion MP

Rachael Maskell MP

Charlie Webster, campaigner and broadcaster

Anne Longfield CBE, Chair, The Commission on Young Lives

Dan Paskins, UK Director, Save the Children UK

Sophie Francis-Cansfield, Head of External Affairs (Interim), Women’s Aid

Jayne Butler, Chief Executive Office, Rape Crisis England & Wales

Susie Hargreaves OBE, CEO, IWF

Geethika Jayatilaka, CEO, Redthread

Deborah Denis, CEO, The Lucy Faithfull Foundation

Naomi Hulston, CEO, Catch22

Tracey Burley, CEO, St Giles Trust

Lindsay Dalton, CEO, Parents Against Child Exploitation (PACE)

Victoria Green, Chief Executive, The Marie Collins Foundation

Jo Youle, CEO, Missing People

Vicki Shotbolt, CEO, Parentzone

Sherry Peck, CEO, Safer London

Rita Waters, Group Chief Executive National Youth Advocacy Service (England and Wales)

Louise King, Director, Children’s Rights Alliance for England, part of Just for Kids Law

Saqib Deshmukh, Interim CEO, Alliance for Youth Justice

Abi Billingshurst, CEO, Abianda

Dr Grace Robinson, Founder & CEO Black Box Research and Consultancy

And 20,136 signatories from the public.

Notes to editors

For more information, contact: 

Hannah Pepper, Media Officer at Barnardo’s, M: 07858 678741 E: [email protected]

24 Hour Press Office: 020 8498 7555

About Barnardo’s

Last year Barnardo’s provided essential support to over 357,000 children, young people, parents and carers through more than 790 services. We provide vital support to the children and families who need us most, to help with a range of issues including mental health, child sexual abuse and children in care. We listen to children and young people and work to bring about positive change so that they can have a brighter future. Visit to find out more. 

About Barnardo's work on child criminal and sexual exploitation

Children face a range of complex and interconnected threats both on- and offline, including sexual abuse and exploitation, criminal exploitation, and trafficking. Specialist services play a vital role in supporting and safeguarding children who are at risk of experiencing or have experienced criminal and/or sexual exploitation.

In July 2023 we published research into how the cost-of-living crisis and school holidays may increase the risk of child sexual and criminal exploitation.

Read more in our report Invisible children: Understanding the risk of the cost-of-living crisis and school holidays on child sexual and criminal exploitation.

Learn more about how we are helping children recover and rebuild their lives after experiencing devastating trauma