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Bonding, blame and belief: child exploitation explained

Right now, there are young people trapped in a cycle of forced crime and sexual abuse. With schools and support services temporarily closed over Christmas, the crisis is likely to get worse. Our project workers explain the dangers of child exploitation and how important it is to have someone sticking by them, to help them understand their situation and break free from abuse.


how young people are in survival mode when being exploited

young woman grey bobble hat and black coat leaning on wall looking into distance

Survival mode

Lauren is now in college. She is confident, focused on her future. However, when we met her, it was a different story. Matt, manager of one of our services for preventing child sexual exploitation, explains how children like Lauren get trapped in a world of abuse. 

‘When vulnerable young people are groomed by older men and pressured into having sex, they often feel they can’t say “no”. They worry they will lose the connection, which is often the only connection they have. 

survival mode

They are also given drugs and not allowed to sleep. It is a way of making sure they will do what they are asked. Alone and threatened, a natural response to threat is to ‘freeze’ or ‘flop’. This is not a choice. It is the brain’s survival mode response. 

It's not a choice. It's survival.

Later, they may feel very confused by their response, often blaming themselves for not fighting or saying “no”. A lot of our work is helping young people understand they are not to blame. They are victims. They deserve better.’ 

Boy looks at man as they laugh together

My voice was being heard

My voice was being heard

When Andrew was just 13 he and his family were caught up in a terrifying attack. He struggled with his mental health. After receiving therapy from one of our specialist practitioners he was able to process his traumatic memories.

how young people feel bonded to their abuser

Breaking a bond

‘Having been groomed, young people often struggle to see their abuser negatively. They focus on the positives – the care, the compliments, the attention. They blank out the negatives – the threats, the scare tactics, the violence.  

The extreme manipulation and grooming tactics of the abuser make it very difficult for the young person to walk away. It creates what is known as a ‘trauma bond’. We work with young people as long as it takes to help them see that relationship for what it is. We help them break free. We put safety plans in place to reduce the risk of them being targeted and abused.’ 

Finding people I could relate to, I felt like I belonged Finding people I could relate to, I felt like I belonged

– Matthew, victim of criminal exploitation
young man standing by sports court in grey hoodie

Child criminal exploitation

Right now, children are being forced to carry and sell drugs far away from their homes. They are made to skip school, sleep in drug dens, keep secrets from family.

We work hard to end this type of abuse and give those who have been exploited a chance for a better future. 

Rebuilding belief

Emily is Lauren’s project worker. She helped her break free. She says ‘for young people who are being exploited, their self-esteem can be so eroded by their abusers that they do not believe they can have a life free from abuse and manipulation. 

To break free, they need to believe it can be better, and they are worth that.

how we rebuild belief in young people

young woman in white jumper smiling

A crucial part of our work with them, is to not only help them find safety, but to build their self-esteem with positive feedback and respect. 

Young people we work with are so used to being abused or disrespected, they expect that from us as well. It’s our job to build trust, to help them to see that they are worth so much more and to give them something to fight for. We show them that they are a human being worthy of care and connection that is healthy. This is something that many of them have never actually had.’ 

Breaking the cycle

No young person should suffer abuse or exploitation. Our project workers stand side-by-side with young people, helping them find safety, self-belief, and confidence, so they can break free from a cycle of abuse.

Every phone call, message of support and coffee shop meet-up will help young people deal with their trauma and see that their future is theirs to own.

young woman looking to camera strong


Donate today to help our project workers reach a young person who is being exploited. 

Together we can help them break free from their abusers and begin to recover.