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Advice for professionals

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Sexual exploitation is a complicated issue and children who have experienced it may have extremely complex needs.

Things to remember are:

  • Both girls and boys can be victims of child sexual exploitation and are equally vulnerable.
  • The coercer(s) and perpetrator(s) are usually an adult(s), but children and young people can also act in a sexually abusive way towards other young people or exert power e.g. group/gang members of either gender.
  • Children and young people may exchange or sell sex as a result of constrained choices such as poverty, isolation and historic abuse.
  • Although it is rare, parents/carers may be involved in the sexual exploitation of their children.
  • Groups of children and multiple perpetrators may be involved (organised abuse).
  • Be aware: disclosure of information by the child may take time and evident risks may only emerge during ongoing assessment, support and interventions with the child and/or family. 

If you work or come into contact with young people in a school setting, whether in an employed or voluntary capacity, then you have a duty of care towards them. You need to stay alert to changes in behaviour or any physical signs of abuse and be confident in talking about relationships, exploitation and your concerns with children and other professionals. It is essential that you understand your agency's safeguarding procedure and how to put it into action.  

If you have concerns that a child you know may be a victim of child sexual exploitation, act immediately and follow your agency’s internal safeguarding procedures. If you need support you can speak to your designated safeguarding lead. As soon as you identify concerns you should begin to act to safeguard the child. If you are aware that the child is known to children’s social care, make contact with their worker to discuss your concerns. 

If a child is at immediate risk of harm, call 999.

Further information can be found in the definition and guide for practitioners.

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