Different faces of child exploitation

Every year thousands of children are criminally exploited. Some may have been forced to cross international borders, been groomed into county lines drug trafficking or faced abuse in their own communities.

Child exploitation comes in many forms and although they have different names, the patterns remain the same. 

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Prosecuted ‘prostitutes’ 

Twenty years ago we published our first ground-breaking report on child sexual exploitation in Britain. Back then, children who were sexually exploited were prosecuted as child prostitutes rather than safeguarded and protected.

We called for legislation to recognise that children who are sexually abused and exploited need protection not prosecution. These children were coerced, manipulated and groomed into exploitative situations.

Thankfully, over the last twenty years big progress had been made in how professionals and wider society understand and respond to child sexual exploitation.

Modern exploitation

Modern exploitation

In recent years, new types of exploitation have been uncovered and we need to learn the same lessons we did with child sexual exploitation. We must stop treating children as criminals and give them the help they need.

We must challenge the language we hear about young people who are involved in international trafficking, labour exploitation and child criminal exploitation. How young people are described can determine the way services respond to them.

If a child is branded a ‘criminal’, then a route of prosecution and criminalisation may follow. However if the same child is recognised as a victim, then a safeguarding response kicks into action.

forms of child exploitation blog

new forms of exploitation

young woman in fluffy coat talking to project worker

New forms, same methods

Cases from our practice show that similar methods of grooming, coercion and threats are used by adults criminally exploiting children as those used in sexual exploitation. These are children who are often living in poverty, face exclusion from mainstream school, or are living in care.

We support these young people through our one-to-one work and our policy and influencing work. The children are not the problem. We must work to change the systems and contexts that puts these children at risk.

Whether it’s through sexual exploitation, labour exploitation or criminal exploitation and county lines — no child should be blamed for the abuse they experience.