Young People at Risk of Exploitation

Are you being forced or pressured to do something you don’t want to do? Or are you worried about a friend?

If you are under 18 and someone is encouraging you to deal drugs on their behalf, making you work in a house or a business for little or no pay, forcing you to beg and taking the money, making you have sex against your will, or generally forcing you to do something while taking the profits or reaping the benefit themselves, then you could be a victim of child exploitation and trafficking.

The good news is there is help available. Read on to find out more about the types and signs of child trafficking, and how the Modern Slavery Helpline can help you with free advice and support. If you’re a teacher, also check out Spotlight, our awareness-raising programme for schools.

What is child exploitation and trafficking?

Child exploitation is when someone under the age of 18 is made to work or do stuff for the benefit of someone else.An exploited

minor may feel unable leave a situation of abuse because they’re being threatened, manipulated or controlled. That said, you don’t need to have been deceived for a situation to be considered exploitation.

Young people are recruited, moved or transported and then exploited, forced to work, or sold.

It can happen to anyone – not just foreign children as is often thought. You could only be taken next door or down the road – it’s still classed as trafficking.

Child exploitation and trafficking are forms of child abuse and against the law.

Who is at risk?

Anyone can be a victim of child exploitation and trafficking – British-born or otherwise, any colour, any gender.

But some are more at risk than others. Traffickers prey on the vulnerable, on young people who are alone or lacking strong support networks, in foster care, or maybe when there is disruption at home.

Child exploitation can take many forms.

  • Grooming is when someone gets close to a child in order to abuse them. This can happen online or face-to-face, and it can be done by strangers or someone familiar. Groomers will hide their true intentions and may spend a long time gaining your trust before the abuse starts.
  • Sexual exploitation is when boys or girls are tricked or forced into performing sexual acts, possibly with many different perpetrators of abuse. You might receive gifts, money or affection, be given alcohol or drugs, or be tricked into believing you are in a consensual relationship.
  • Criminal exploitation is when young people are forced to commit crimes that benefit the exploiter. You might be forced to beg, to steal, to sell pirate DVDs, or to grow or deal drugs. ‘County Lines’ is when gangs and drug dealers use children to transport and sell drugs across the country, using ‘county line’ mobile phone numbers for different regions.
  • Forced or child marriage is when a young person is forced to marry against their will. It can be a form of modern slavery as the young person is treated as something to be traded, and then used for sex and housework.
  • Domestic Servitude is when a child is confined to a home to do housework such as cooking, cleaning, and childcare.
  • Forced labour is when a young person is forced to work for little or no money. It could happen anywhere, but the commonly reported places are car washes, nail bars, restaurants or takeaways, building sites and farms.

Spot the signs of exploitation

Here are some signs of exploitation to watch out for in yourselves and others:

  • Does your friend seem anxious to immediately respond to texts and messages on their mobile? It could be that someone is controlling them through their mobile phone.
  • Do they have new friends that you don’t know, who pick them up from school?
  • Does your friend have new, unexplained bruises? It could be that they were attacked, grabbed or threatened.
  • Does your friend seem angry, upset or withdrawn? Does he or she seem tired all of the time, like they may not be getting enough rest at night?
  • Do they seem to be acting more sexual suddenly? This could be an indication that they have been sexually exploited.
  • Do they go silent or missing at night time or weekends, or mention that they are staying out late when you don’t know who they are hanging out with?
  • Are they absent from school or arriving late? If they are not attending school they could be being exploited or could be forced into committing crimes.
  • Are they travelling to areas far from their home? This could be a sign of criminal exploitation as they may have travelled across counties or been transported for exploitation.
  • Do they have gifts or presents which they can't explain, such as money, clothes or phones? This could be a sign that they are being groomed.

What can you do?

You can call the 24/7 Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700, for free support. We can offer you advice on your situation and on your options for getting out of it if you want to.

You’ll speak to a trained Helpline Advisor who will be able to talk to you about your situation without judgement. You don’t have to give your name or personal details if you don’t want to. If you appear to be at risk, then your situation will be referred to the local authorities.

You can also submit a report online or through the Unseen App – in either case if you want a call back, we can do that.

If you are in immediate danger, or know someone who is, you should call the police on 999.

You can say no. You have choices. Even if your situation seems desperate, you are not alone and not powerless. Call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700 to talk to someone.