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Responding to young people at risk of sexual exploitation

Sexual exploitation can be difficult to identify and respond to, especially when the young person believes they are in a consensual relationship. This part will help you respond to and support young people who you believe are being exploited.


Consistent responses between parents, safe people and practitioners help young people to develop the trusting and connected relationships needed to keep them safe. Consultation with experienced staff, such as senior team leaders, senior practitioners, regional practice leaders and specialist teams such as Practice Advice and Support and Specialist Practice team (who provide support with complex case consultations and decision making) will assist you in your work with alleged abusers.

Sexual exploitation has an impact on every aspect of a young person’s life. While any young person may be sexually exploited, alleged abusers often target young people who are already experiencing multiple life stresses. Their exploitation then further isolates the young person from supportive family and friends and disrupts their ability to finish their education and gain employment. Young people who have been sexually exploited are more likely to experience teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, attempt suicide, have difficulty with aggressive or criminal behaviour, and experience alcohol and other drugs use and mental health issues.

Parents of young people who are being sexually exploited can struggle to identify sexual exploitation and respond supportively.

This section helps to develop case planning approaches to increase the safety of young people who are experiencing exploitation. This work is sensitive. Take the time to build a trusting relationship slowly with the young person, and seek support and supervision.

Practice prompt

Language shapes the way we work with young people, families and communities, and the way we see risk.

Be alert to language used by colleagues in Child Safety and other agency partners and be prepared to challenge language that:

  • minimises or ignores sexual exploitation, for example, ‘[young person] is in a relationship with [alleged abuser]’
  • sexualises young people, for example, ‘[young person] is sexually promiscuous’
  • makes it appear that the exploitation is the young person’s fault, for example, ‘[young person] is acting out sexually’ or ‘is engaging in prostitution’.

A young person’s friendship group is central to their social, emotional and physical wellbeing. Friends can be central to building safety and providing emotional support to a young person experiencing sexual exploitation. With the young person’s consent, connect with their friend and assess their capacity to support the young person before assuming they can be part of the young person’s safety and support network.

Make sure they are not placed at risk of sexual exploitation by their friendship with the young person. Friends may be experiencing a range of emotions in response to the young person’s experiences of sexual exploitation and are likely to need guidance to help them be a supportive friend.


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