Stop child exploitation

Date published: 16 March 2023 08:40

Exploitation destroys childhoods

Every child deserves a happy, safe childhood free from harm or abuse. For most children, this will always be the case. But sadly, there are criminals out there who will take advantage wherever they can.

Many victims of exploitation do not disclose abuse at the time it’s happening – perhaps not realising they are a victim or feeling they can’t tell anyone about it. That’s why it’s so important that bystanders advocate for them and make a report or seek support on their behalf.

We encourage everyone to spot the warning signs of child exploitation and to help children.

What is child exploitation?

Child exploitation is a type of child abuse. When a child or young person is exploited, they are groomed by criminals - being given things like money, presents, drugs or alcohol, affection, or perceived status. These things are given as a manipulation tactic to convince them to do something for their abuser, or their associates.

This can include carrying out criminal activity like dealing or couriering drugs, which is known as child criminal exploitation, or being forced to perform sexual acts, which is known as child sexual exploitation.

Sometimes, children are forced to carry out criminal activity in places outside of South Yorkshire - this is known as county lines. This is when gangs use children to transport weapons, money, or drugs across counties to other towns or perhaps more rural areas.

Many children who are exploited do not realise they are being abused. Their abuser will spot any vulnerabilities the child has and learn to understand their wants and needs in order to manipulate them. Alternatively, they will apply fear, intimidation, or threats of violence in order to force the child to do their bidding.

Who does it affect?

There is no ‘typical victim’ when it comes to child exploitation. Any child could be at risk of being targeted by criminals.

However, children with vulnerabilities such as learning difficulties, those who are neglected, and children who are regularly missing from home are at greater risk of being exploited.

There is also not a ‘typical offender’. Offences are committed by men and women of all ages and backgrounds.

There are many ways that exploitation can begin, and children can be groomed in different ways – they may even be coerced by their own friends, who are under the influence of a gang. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, online grooming has significantly increased, with criminals approaching children through social media or online gaming.

The signs

The early warning signs can be difficult to spot, but here are some of the changes you might see if a child is being exploited:

  • A sharp or sudden change in mood or behaviour
  • Becoming withdrawn, anxious, angry, secretive, distant or fearful of others
  • A new, much older, boyfriend
  • Being secretive about their activities or whereabouts
  • Skipping school or going missing regularly
  • Socialising with much older friends
  • Being secretive about who they are in contact with
  • Becoming withdrawn, anxious, angry, secretive or distant.
  • A new interest or reliance on drugs or alcohol
  • Unexplained gifts such as a new, second phone, alcohol, food, money, jewellery, or clothing

A child may present one of these signs, or a combination of several.

What are South Yorkshire Police doing?

From 2023, we will have a dedicated exploitation team in each of our four districts – Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham, and Sheffield. Officers in these teams are specialists in supporting victims and investigating such crimes.

We also work with partners such as local councils, support agencies and charities to ensure we continue to develop our knowledge, identify vulnerable children and offer the best possible support to those affected.

How can I report?

If you are concerned about a child and you suspect they may be being exploited, please report to us so we can help. Even the smallest suspicion could mean they are at risk.

You can report by calling 101 or going online and using our live chat function or online portal.

If they are in immediate danger, call 999.

If you think you are being exploited, please know it is not your fault. It is only ever the offender who is to blame. Please report to us so we can help keep you safe.

Our ongoing work to tackle CSE

Exploitation of children, in all of its forms, is absolutely abhorrent and tackling it continues to be a high priority for South Yorkshire Police.

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) remains an issue in South Yorkshire and across the country. Our understanding of this type of offending has developed considerably since the time of the Jay Report in 2014 and the way we deal with it has greatly improved.
We now have dedicated teams which work closely with partner agencies to proactively investigate this type of crime. The development of our response has been shaped by listening to the experience of survivors of CSE and the most recent report by HMICFRS - released in January 2023 - found South Yorkshire Police to be ‘outstanding’ at protecting vulnerable people.

Operation Stovewood, the National Crime Agency’s (NCA) independent investigation into child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA) in Rotherham, which was requested by South Yorkshire Police, continues to make good progress.

Child exploitation in South Yorkshire

Our 2019 Child Exploitation profile can be read here

Our 2020 Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) profile can be read here

Our 2021 Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) profile can be read here.