Sexual Exploitation and Child Trafficking

To contextualise the issue of child sexual exploitation, let’s set it against the legal framework.

Very simply, the age of consent for everybody in the United Kingdom is 16. Any sexual contact, including touching or oral sex is illegal if the participant(s) are under 16.

  • It is illegal for someone in a position of trust or authority (teacher, sports coach, tutor) to have sex with a young person who is under 18.
  • It is illegal to take, share, publish indecent photos of children.
  • It is illegal to arrange or to pay for sexual services from children (and vulnerable young adults).

The legal definition of sexual abuse covers acts of penetrative (vaginal or anal) sexual acts, touching, masturbation and the use of sexual images (online or in-person)

Non-consensual sex is always defined as rape or sexual assault and is illegal.


Child sexual exploitation is based on power. Perpetrators use their power over children and young people in order to abuse them. This power could be based on strength, finance, age, gender, intellectual difference and other disparities.

It can also occur within relationships: familial, working or gangs and may include the victims being given something that they want (money, attention, items of value) in return for sex.

Grooming (the deliberate and calculated befriending of a young person to gain their trust, so that they can be manipulated and controlled) is part of sexual exploitation. Sometimes grooming can lead to the young person then being handed over to others for sex.

Victims and Perpetrators

Victims and perpetrators can come from all social backgrounds and racial groups. There are circumstances that make some children more at risk. These are children who

  • Are homeless
  • Have low self-esteem
  • Are carers
  • Are in care

But it is important to understand that children can be at risk of sexual exploitation in any setting.

Are there ways of spotting signs of child sexual exploitation?

There are some, but as with most abuse, it is difficult to identify or spot signs of abuse and some of the behaviours below are indicative of growing up/being a teenager and do not imply that the child is or has been abused.

Things to look out for:

What to do if you are concerned that a child or young person is being sexually abused?

  • Alert the DSL.
  • If you feel that the child is in imminent danger, contact the police.
  • If the DSL is not available, you can also contact Dorset Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH). Click here for further details.

What is Child Trafficking?

The UN definition of Child trafficking is the  “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, and/or receipt” kidnapping of a child for the purpose of slavery, forced labour and exploitation.

It is a crime and as the Save the Children’s website so poignantly describes it, child trafficking ‘represents the tragic end of childhood’ 

Child trafficking is the abduction of children and can be done for financial reasons, forced labour, sexual exploitation, forced marriage and committing crimes.

Traffickers make money out of the process and trafficked children are liable to suffer physical, emotional, sexual and mental abuse.

Victims of traffickers may suffer significant short and long term effects. If they have been groomed, they may not realise that they are victims.

They may feel that they are in a relationship with their abusers/groomers and do not recognise their situation

They may feel guilt that they have been responsible for their abuse,

If you would like to know more about the effect, signs and implications of child trafficking, click here for a link to the NSPCC website

What should I do if I am concerned that a child has been trafficked?

  • Contact the DSL
  • If you feel that the child is in imminent danger, call 999
  • You can also contact Dorset Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH). Click here for further details.