Sexual exploitation can be difficult to spot and is sometimes mistaken for "normal" teenage behaviour. Knowing the signs can help protect children and help them when they've no one else to turn to. A child might know they're being sexually exploited. They might be worried or confused and less likely to speak to an adult they trust. Look out for the following signs of sexual abuse and grooming:
- Unhealthy or inappropriate sexual behaviour.
- Being frightened of some people, places or situations.
- Bring secretive.
- Sharp changes in mood or character.
- Having money or things they can't or won't explain.
- Physical signs of abuse, like bruises or bleeding in their genital or anal area.
- Alcohol or drug misuse.
- Sexually transmitted infections.
Other things you might notice:
- Having an older boyfriend or girlfriend.
- Staying out late or overnight.
- Having a new group of friends.
- Missing from home or care, or stopping going to school or college.
- Hanging out with older people, other vulnerable people or in antisocial groups.
- Involved in a gang.
- Involved in criminal activities like selling drugs or shoplifting.
Victims of sexual exploitation may not disclose offences or acknowledge their vulnerabilities, due to a number of factors:
- Fear of/loyalty to exploiters
- Failing to see themselves as victim/believing they are in a consensual relationship
- Negative perception of authorities
- Not aware of support available
- The fear of not being believed
- Feeling ashamed or embarrassed, including
- The fear of bringing shame