YourVoice-Staying Safe-Exploitation

Exploitation is the unfair treatment of someone, or the use of a situation in a way that is wrong, in order to get some benefit for themselves. This can happen in a number of ways but two key dangers to your safety and wellbeing are Criminal exploitation and Sexual Exploitation.

Sexual Exploitation

What is sexual exploitation?

This is when you are used by being tricked or forced into doing something sexual in return for something - like love, affection, money, drugs or alcohol. It happens in the real world and online.

It's a kind of abuse, although you may not see it that way, because you may have been groomed by the abusers.

What is grooming?

'Grooming' is how an abuser makes you think it's your fault, when it isn't.

Grooming is how someone makes you feel special at first and gradually gets you to do things you are ashamed of. You may want to believe that it is a true relationship and that you are loved and in love. By the time you realise that there is something wrong, you are often too scared or ashamed to tell anyone. You feel trapped.

Grooming makes you feel like it's your fault and too scared to tell anyone about it because you think you will be blamed or punished. Grooming can make you feel like you are in a cycle of fear and shame where no-one will believe what is happening to you. But a person who is being exploited in this way is never to blame. It can happen to anyone, anywhere, both boys and girls. Grooming can happen both in the real world and online.

This is what some victims have said:

"I totally believed there was no one I could tell. He had convinced me he was the only person who really cared about me." 

"I just needed someone to ask why I had changed. I would have told them everything." 

"I felt so lonely, I had no one to talk to, and that's how I ended up with bad people, and bad things happened to me." 

"I am worried my parents will be ashamed of me, and I know I will get in trouble for talking to strangers online, I feel like I have let them down."

How do I know if I am being groomed?

If someone is:

  • Not close to your age
  • Travelling far (and encouraging you to do the same)
  • Telling lies and keeping secrets (and encouraging you to do the same) 
  • Doing inappropriate stuff. Covering for you if you bunk off school. Arranging to meet you when they've not known you for long. Acting like they've known you for ages when they haven't  
  • Doing illegal stuff. Taking you to pub and clubs. Giving you drugs or alcohol. Encouraging you to break the law. Covering for you if you break the law.
  • Doing sexual stuff. Inappropriately talking to you about sex. Asking personal questions about sex. Showing you sexual stuff like sexual images and videos.
  • Being overly friendly. Buying, loaning or giving you stuff. Doing you favours. Being supportive. Being overly friendly when they've not known you for long. Doing stuff and activities together
  • Doing stuff involving nudity- Clothes shopping, Swimming and sporting activities, Going to the gym, Playing dares and strip games
  • Getting you alone
  • Controlling you- Being bossy and controlling, Being possessive and always contacting you, Pressuring you, Making you feel guilty or bad, Making you feel that you owe them, Isolating you from friends and family

I think I am being exploited what should I do?

You can contact the CSE Team on 01302 737200

Say Something is a 24/7, anonymous helpline, that creates space for young people to share any worries they have about themselves or their friends and will provide support to help them keep safe.

Call or text 116000

Facebook: /SaySomething

Twitter: @SaySomethingIf 

You can download this Barnados App ‘Wud U’ which will show you the dangers of CSE and how to keep yourself safe.

You could speak with the Childline website - they have a forum where you can talk anonymously to children who have been through CSE. They also have a confidential advice line for children and young people.

I think this is happening to my friend

Children dealing with CSE often won't tell even their best friends. But grooming changes how someone acts - so you might be worried if someone you know:

  • Has become especially secretive; stopped seeing their usual friends; has really sharp, severe mood swings.
  • Has new relationships with older men and/or women.
  • Goes missing from home or stays out all night.
  • Gets calls and messages from outside their normal circle of friends.
  • Has new, expensive items that you know they couldn't afford, like mobile phones, iPods or jewellery - or lots of 'invisible' or 'virtual' gifts such as phone credit and online gaming credits.
  • Suddenly changes their taste in dress or music.
  • Looks tired or unwell and sleeps at unusual hours.
  • Has marks or scars on their body, which they try to hide.

You can contact the CSE Team on 01302 737200

Say Something is a 24/7, anonymous helpline, that creates space for young people to share any worries they have about themselves or their friends and will provide support to help them keep safe.

Sexual Exploitation - staying safe online


Most of us are connected online via our laptops, mobile phones, tablets or PCs. The internet is a valuable way to find resources for entertaining, having fun, staying connected with friends and for learning. Unfortunately there is also a lot of illegal activity and abuse that takes place online as well, be it bullying, fraud or something else. In the same way you learn to stay safe when you leave your house, make sure you know how to stay safe online too.

  • Never give out personal information such as your address or phone number
  • Don't send pictures of yourself to anyone, especially indecent pictures
  • Don't open emails or attachments form people you don't know
  • Never arrange to meet someone in person you have met online.
  • If you see, read or experience something online that worries you - tell someone 

Sending nude selfies

Sending nude selfies (also known as nudes, dirties, pic for pic, sexting, fanpics) is sending and receiving rude messages or videos of; naked pictures, underwear shots or any sexual texts, images or videos. These images can be sent from a boyfriend or girlfriend, friend or someone you have met online.

Sending nude selfies can happen because:

  • You want to fit in with friends and think that is what is expected of you.
  • You are worried as being seen as 'shy' or 'frigid'
  • You feel pressured into this activity
  • You have been harassed, threatened, or blackmailed into sending pictures.
  • You think it's ok because you're in love with the person and trust them.


  • There is no turning back once you press send and you cannot then control who sees the image.
  • Even if you use apps where images are only displayed for a few seconds, the recipient can take a screen shot.

Zipit app

Zipit is Childline's first ever app, available for Android and Apple smartphones. It gives advice on what to do if someone is trying to get you to send naked images of yourself or if you need to keep a flirty situation in control. If anything like this gets out of control or worries you when interacting online the best thing is to tell someone you trust as soon as you can.

There is support for you.

Criminal Exploitation

What is criminal exploitation?

Criminal exploitation is where groomers (for definition of grooming see above) exploit you and force you to commit crimes.

How could I be exploited?


The groomer or gang will build a friendship with you and make you feel like a valued member of the group. They’ll often give you money, gifts and lifts in their car. They usually also supply you with alcohol or drugs. At this stage you may enjoy the sense of freedom and lack of rules; you may also begin to feel a sense of belonging within the gang. Over time, you may see this group as family.


Once you feel part of the group, the groomer begins to give you responsibilities. This could be something like holding a package overnight. You will be paid about £50 for doing a task like this. This makes you feel like the group trust you. You may then feel in debt to the group gang “for everything they’ve done for you”,  and you will begin to enjoy and get used to the money that you are now being given.


At this stage the group may start asking the young people to carry out serious crimes. If the young person refuses, the group will then threaten the young person. These threats could be to the young person themselves, to their friends or to their family. By this stage the young person is entrenched in the criminal group, and they will almost certainly have witnessed violent acts committed by the gang. They will understand that threats of violence are not empty threats, and are likely to do what is asked of them. Levels of threat can vary depending on which area of the country the young person lives in. Typically, the more established criminal gangs are in the area, the more violent the threats to the exploited young person are.

Types of Crimes you may be forced to commit

  • Holding firearms for an organised crime gang
  • Carrying and using firearms or knives
  • Supplying, sourcing class A-C drugs
  • Involvement in planned harm to others
  • Shooting and causing violence to others
  • Planning and carrying out burglaries
  • Damage of community or properties
  • Mugging or street robbery
  • ‘Cuckooing’ which involves gangs and criminal networks taking over the home of a vulnerable person and using their property as a base to store drugs, firearms and often run their criminal activity

I think I am being exploited, what can I do?

Speak with a teacher you trust in school who will be able to seek the right support for you. 

You can discuss your concerns with the police on 101

Call Childline on 0800 1111

Visit The Mix - they have a helpline, online chat facility and crisis messenger


Last updated: 05 February 2021 15:44:23

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