The young person may think that their abuser is their friend, or even a boyfriend or girlfriend. But they will put them into dangerous situations, forcing the young person to do things they don't want to do. The abuser may physically or verbally threaten the young person or be violent towards them. They will control and manipulate them, and try to isolate them from friends and family.
The victims of abuse are not at fault. Abusers are very clever in the way they manipulate and take advantage of the young people they abuse.
In most cases, the abuser will have power of some kind over the young person. It may be that the abuser is older or more emotionally mature, physically stronger, or that they are in a position where they are able to control the young person.
There are some situations that can make young people more vulnerable to exploitation; by becoming distant from the people who would usually look after them. Young people who are having difficulties at home, regularly go missing or have experienced care may be particularly vulnerable.
- going missing for periods of time or regularly returning home late
- regularly missing school or not taking part in education
- appearing with unexplained gifts or new possessions
- associating with other young people involved in exploitation
- having older boyfriends or girlfriends
- suffering from sexually transmitted infections
- mood swings or changes in emotional wellbeing
- drug and alcohol misuse
- displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviour
There are also a number of practical steps you can take to protect children such as:
- staying alert to changes in behaviour or any physical signs of abuse such as bruising
- being aware of new, unexplained gifts or possessions and carefully monitoring any episodes of staying out late or not
- returning home
- exercising caution around older friends your child may have, or relationships with other young people where there appears to be a power imbalance
- making sure you understand the risks associated with your child being online and putting measures in place to minimise these risks.
If you are concerned that a child is at risk of sexual exploitation, you may want to contact one of our specialist sexual exploitation projects for advice: www.barnardos.org.uk/specialist_sexual_exploitation_projects. If a child is in immediate danger, call 999 or contact your local police.
Taken from Barnardo’s Cut them free campaign. For more information please visit the Barnardo’s website www.barnardos.org.uk/cutthemfree