Signs a child or young person is being sexually exploited
This is not an easy topic to discuss but with so many stories being published from the ‘Jimmy Saville Case’ to the ‘Lost Prophets case’ to the grooming rings found in places like Rochdale, one thing this confirms is sexual exploitation and grooming DOES exist and it does so right across society.
It is important to strike whilst the iron is hot, if you work with children or young people in any capacity it is important you are aware of any signs.
The following list of indicators is not exhaustive or definitive but it does highlight common signs which can assist professionals in identifying children or young people who may be victims of sexual exploitation.
- underage sexual activity
- inappropriate sexual or sexualised behaviour
- sexually risky behaviour, ‘swapping’ sex
- repeat sexually transmitted infections
- in girls, repeat pregnancy, abortions, miscarriage
- receiving unexplained gifts or gifts from unknown sources
- having multiple mobile phones and worrying about losing contact via mobile
- having unaffordable new things (clothes, mobile) or expensive habits (alcohol, drugs)
- changes in the way they dress
- going to hotels or other unusual locations to meet friends
- seen at known places of concern
- moving around the country, appearing in new towns or cities, not knowing where they are
- getting in/out of different cars driven by unknown adults
- having older boyfriends or girlfriends
- contact with known perpetrators
- involved in abusive relationships, intimidated and fearful of certain people or situations
- hanging out with groups of older people, or anti-social groups, or with other vulnerable peers
- associating with other young people involved in sexual exploitation
- recruiting other young people to exploitative situations
- truancy, exclusion, disengagement with school, opting out of education altogether
- unexplained changes in behaviour or personality (chaotic, aggressive, sexual)
- mood swings, volatile behaviour, emotional distress
- self-harming, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, overdosing, eating disorders
- drug or alcohol misuse
- getting involved in crime
- police involvement, police records
- involved in gangs, gang fights, gang membership
- injuries from physical assault, physical restraint, sexual assault.
These signs have been drawn from a range of research (Barnardo’s, 2011; CEOP, 2011; Berelowitz et al, 2012) and from our experience working with sexually exploited children and young people through a known children’s charity.
It is positive that more cases are reaching court and convictions are being made, but unfortunately I believe we are only scratching the surface and it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure we protect children from these perpetrators.