Any young child could potentially become a victim of child sexual exploitation. However the children considered to be most at risk are:
Child abuse doesn’t only mean physical or sexual violence but can include emotional abuse and other forms of neglect.
Sometimes a child may be exploited by gangs of people who come together in person or online for the purpose of setting up, or participating in the sexual exploitation of children in either an organised or opportunistic way.
If the abuse takes place in a gang environment, female members may perceive the abuse as ‘normal behaviour’. In some cases, they may accept it as a way of achieving a respected status/title within the gang.
When a young person is exploited by their peer(s), the abuser is the same age, or close in age to them. At the very least, everyone directly involved in the abuse is under 18 years of age.
Peer abusers may use a variety of techniques to coerce a victim. They may use rewards and cash or bullying and physical threats. They may also use fear, mental or emotional manipulation or drugs.
With peer abuse, schools and youth clubs are also locations where children and young people can be exploited.
At first, a young person may like, respect, or even think they are falling in love with the person exploiting them.
This is because groomers are manipulative and will often ‘groom’ a person over time. They often make their victims feel ‘special’ and shower them with gifts and complements so they become attached.
But later, the behaviour of the groomer starts to change, often slowly. They may encourage the victim to grow distant from their family and friends and slowly become more abusive.
By this point, the young person is likely to feel trapped, scared, and alone. They may also find it difficult to acknowledge that they are no longer comfortable in the relationship.
Online grooming is a form of child sexual exploitation where someone builds an emotional connection with a child under the age of 18 to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or trafficking.
Children and young people can be groomed online or face-to-face, by a stranger or by someone they know – for example a family member, friend or professional. Groomers may be male or female and belong to any age group.
An online groomer may attempt to gain the trust of their victims by using fake profile pictures, pretending to have similar interests, offering gifts and complementing the child.
Some may try to set up a meeting, or even blackmail children by threatening to publish the content online.
The risk of boys and young men becoming victims of sexual exploitation by both male and female offenders is often underestimated and not as well understood.
Often boys face additional barriers to disclosing their abuse because they may fear that their masculinity or sexuality will be questioned.
If the abuser is female, then there is a danger that sometimes the male victim may not see themselves as a victim.
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