Posted: 18 March 2020

Child Exploitation Awareness Day: different forms of exploitation and gender stereotypes

This Child Exploitation Awareness Day, we’re highlighting the different forms of exploitation and trying to bust some common misconceptions.

One worrying trend noted by our practitioners is that different forms of exploitation are sometimes unconsciously assigned to a certain gender. So, if a case involves a boy, we assume it must be criminal exploitation and if it’s a girl, we assume it’s sexual exploitation. Our practitioners report this could be problematic as safeguarding responses from professionals may vary depending on gender.  

Through the lens of safeguarding, not misconceptions

We know that both males and females can be victims of both forms of exploitation and it’s important for people to see exploitation through the lens of safeguarding not misconceptions.

Here we try to unpack this genderisation of exploitation and show that any child, regardless of gender, can be victims of criminal and sexual exploitation. 

Things you might not know about child exploitation

From case notes, seized phones and first-hand accounts from young people, we know that child criminal exploitation and child sexual exploitation are closely linked and not specific to a particular gender.

Here are some aspects of exploitation that are related to both criminal and sexual abuse:


Plugging is when young people insert drugs inside their bodies to conceal them. They are shown how to do this, at times the plugging and un-plugging of drugs can be done in humiliating ways, this at times can be filmed and again used as another form of control. 

We’d see this as a form of sexual violence. However, this act is often normalized when it involves young boys and professionals at times do not consider the risks associated with this.


Organised crime groups may use sexual violence as a form of punishment or humiliation for young boys and girls. If there is a case of lost drugs or cash, they may force the young person to remove their clothes to prove they’ve lost it. This may also be filmed for wider humiliation. 

Trap houses

Trap houses are places where young people are sent to deliver, pack or sell drugs. Whilst here, the young person may witness or be exposed to sexual violence. This could be violence towards adults present at the house, or in some cases the young person may be the subject of sexual violence or sexual exploitation themselves.

Social media

Sometimes sexual violent acts are filmed and used against the young person to silence them, control them, exploit them further or purely to humiliate them. Online gaming and social media apps mean exploiters can easily share and circulate sensitive images.

As you can see, exploitation doesn’t always have to be either sexual or criminal, it’s sometimes both.

It’s important to remove unconscious biases among professionals working with exploitation so that we don’t look at cases through a gendered lens.


By Kaja Zuvac-Graves

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