Quick Exit

Exploitation of Children

There are many ways in which vulnerable children and adults can be exploited. Here, we will look at some of the types of exploitation and how you can support someone you think may be at risk of being exploited.

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is defined by the Department for Education as a:

“…form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.”

Types of CSE

Abusers ‘groom’ a child for sexual exploitation by breaking down defences to gain trust or forming an emotional relationship with them. There are different models of grooming:

  • Organised/Networked CSE (Trafficking): Young people are trafficked through networks, locally and across the country, and coerced or forced into having sex, often with multiple men. This may take place at “parties” and often involves drugs and/or alcohol.
  • Peer on peer – Young people befriend other young people and make them believe they are in a loving ‘relationship’ or friendship and then coerce them to have sex with friends or associates.
  • Inappropriate relationships – The abuser has inappropriate power or control over a young person (physical, emotional or financial).
  • Boyfriend – The abuser grooms a young person into a ‘relationship’ and makes them think they are a couple, but then coerces or forces them to have sex with friends or associates
  • Gang – Gangs can use sex to exert power and control over members, for example, for initiation, in exchange for status or protection, to entrap rival gang members or use sexual assault as a weapon in conflict.

    Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE)

    Child Criminal Exploitation is where children are groomed to commit crimes. Often this is as part of a gang, which children are groomed and manipulated into joining. The NSPCC has lots of information about signs to look for, what the dangers of CCE are for children and what to do if you’re worried about a child you think may be involved in CCE.

    One major way in which children are criminally exploited is their involvement in County Lines. County Lines is the police term for urban gangs supplying drugs to suburban areas and market and coastal towns. It is a form of criminal exploitation and involves gangs and organised drug networks grooming and exploiting children to sell drugs. Often these children are made to travel across counties, and they use dedicated mobile phone ‘lines’ to supply drugs – this is where the term ‘county lines’ comes from. This is a major safeguarding issue and is happening in Wiltshire and across the country. Professionals and the wider community need to be able to spot the signs and know how to respond to and report concerns.

    What are the signs of CCE and County Lines?

    • Returning home late, staying out all night or going missing
    • Being found in areas away from home
    • Increasing drug use, or being found to have large amounts of drugs on them
    • Being secretive about who they are talking to and where they are going
    • Unexplained absences from school, college, training or work
    • Unexplained money, phone(s), clothes or jewellery
    • Increasingly disruptive or aggressive behaviour
    • Using sexual, drug-related or violent language you wouldn’t expect them to know
    • Coming home with injuries or looking particularly dishevelled
    • Having hotel cards or keys to unknown places

    Watch this video to find out how children can become criminally exploited:


        HM Government Prevent Strategy 2011 defines Radicalisation as:

        “the process by which people come to support terrorism and extremism and, in some cases, to then participate in terrorist groups”.

        The radicalisation of children and young people is a growing concern, and is another way in which children can be exploited. Please see our page on Prevent and Radicalisation for more information on this, and what you can do to support a child you think is at risk of being radicalised.

        Risk Outside the Home

        As part of Wiltshire’s approach to safeguarding adolescents at risk of harm outside the home, a new screening/assessment tool called the Risk Outside the Home (ROTH) form has been created and is now available for multi-agency use.  As well as highlighting concerns for individual young people, the ROTH form allows practitioners to flag concerns around the context where young people are at risk – whether that be a physical location such as a park or route to school, or a social space such as a peer group with harmful norms or dynamics.

        As our understanding of exploitation and harm outside the home has developed, we have recognised the need for a more holistic assessment and have therefore developed this form as an alternative to the current Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) screening tool. The ROTH form has been devised based on national research around use of CSE screening tools and ongoing research by the Contextual Safeguarding team.

        If you have safeguarding concerns for an individual young person that includes risk outside the home, this form can be completed and submitted alongside a referral to the Children's Integrated Front Door (IFD), where the additional information will be considered as part of the triaging process. This form does not replace a referral to IFD for individual safeguarding concerns. ROTH forms submitted to IFD with a referral will be cascaded to the Emerald Team and Young People’s Service, where ROTH concerns will be reviewed and actioned alongside any threshold decision from MASH.

        If you have safeguarding concerns regarding risk outside the home for a context, such as a location, you are able to complete the ROTH form and send it directly to the Emerald team using the EmeraldWiltshire@wiltshire.gov.uk email address. An example of this would be a physical location where young people are known/ suspected to be at risk, but individual names of young people aren’t known. This allows the Young People’s Service, wider Families and Children’s colleagues and multi-agency safeguarding partners to review concerns and instigate a context assessment/ intervention to help reduce risk and increase safety in places and spaces.

        See the Resource Hub (under Contextual Safeguarding) for ROTH forms and guidance.

        Children who go missing

        Children who go missing are at greater risk of being exploited. Wiltshire has developed a new Children Missing from Home and Care protocol which can be used by professionals to know how to respond and where you can go for support, for a child you are concerned about who goes missing.

        What should you do if you are concerned about a child?

        Further Guidance and Resources

        For further details on all the types of exploitation outlined above, see the Resource Hub