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Missing, Exploited, & Trafficked Children

Child Sexual Exploitation

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. Sexual abuse may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside clothing. It may include non-contact activities, such as involving children in the production of sexual images, forcing children to look at sexual images or watch sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet).

The definition of child sexual exploitation is as follows:

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology (Definition and a guide for practitioners, local leaders and decision makers working to protect children from child sexual exploitation, February 2017).

Child sexual exploitation is never the victim’s fault, even if there is some form of exchange: all children and young people under the age of 18 have a right to be safe and should be protected from harm.

The picture in Hampshire

Hampshire, like every other area of the country, is faced with the challenge of tackling the issue of children going missing, being abused through child sexual exploitation and / or being trafficked (MET). These issues are a key priority for Hampshire Safeguarding Children Board (HSCB). For HSCB, all under 18s should be referred to as children because this reinforces the vulnerability of those at risk of exploitation.

HSCB has developed a Missing Exploited & Trafficked Children Strategy outlining our collective response to these issues in Hampshire. This document can be found in the Resource Library.

The effectiveness and implementation of multi-agency plans and arrangements to tackle child sexual exploitation is monitored by HSCB’s Strategic MET Subgroup, which meets bi-monthly to deliver outcomes against the strategy. Task and Finish Groups are also commissioned to undertake specific pieces of work.

 What are the signs?

  • Adults or older youths loitering around children’s homes, care placement or school
  • Persistently missing, staying out at night or returning late with no plausible explanation
  • Leaving home/care setting in clothing unusual for the individual child (e.g. inappropriate for age, borrowing clothing from older children)
  • Acquisition of expensive clothes or clothes that are inappropriate (e.g. skimpy); mobile phones or other possessions without reasonable plausible explanation
  • Truancy/disengagement with education or considerable change in performance at school
  • Volatile behaviour exhibiting an extreme array of mood swings or use of abusive language
  • Getting involved in petty crime such as shoplifting or stealing
  • Entering or leaving vehicles driven by unknown adults and going ‘cruising’ with older people
  • Being taken to parties in private dwellings, hotels/guest houses
  • Hostility in relationship with parents/carers and other family members
  • Returning after having been missing, looking well cared for in spite of having no known home base
  • Returning after having been missing in a dishevelled sate, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, hungry, dirty, dehydrated, distressed etc.
  • Showing signs of sexual activity/abuse, including sexually transmitted infections, terminations, repeated pregnancy testing, pregnancy itself, a reluctance to disclose details etc.
  • Decline in mental health and well-being including self-harm, overdoses etc.
  • Being picked up from outside home, school or on the street in unknown cars or taxis which have not been booked


  • Exploitation can be isolated (one-on-one) or organised group/criminal activity
  • There can be a big age gap between victim and perpetrator, but it can also be peer-on-peer
  • Boys can be targeted just as easily as girls – this is not gender specific
  • Perpetrators can be women and not just men
  • Exploitation can be between males and females or between the same genders
  • Children with learning difficulties can be particularly vulnerable to exploitation as can children from particular groups, e.g. looked after children, young carers, children who have a history of physical, sexual emotional abuse or neglect or mental health problems; children who use drugs or alcohol, children who go missing from home or school, children involved in crime, children with parents/carers who have mental health problems, learning difficulties/other issues, children who associate with other children involved in exploitation. However, it is important to recognise that any child can be targeted
  • Exploitation can take the form of ‘cyber exploitation’ – for example through mobile phones, Facebook, gaming rooms and other social media sites


Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines Trafficking in Persons as ‘the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs’.

Trafficking in the case of children

A ‘Child’ refers to children 0-17 years and adolescents up to their 18th Birthday.

The means (as defined above) do no have to be present for child trafficking so it is simply the movement of a child into and within a country in order to exploit them. Any child transported for exploitative reasons is considered to be a trafficking victim (whether or not they have been deceived) because it is not considered possible for children to give informed consent.

Children and young people are usually recruited by coercive or subversive means, taken on dangerous journeys with false papers and ID and, at their destination, they are kept in a controlled environment by means of threats or violence. Some children may be escorted by a person stating that they are a relative. Most children are trafficked for financial gain such as domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, benefit fraud, sweatshop work in catering or agriculture, illegal adoption and many more.


The child at the point of entry:

  • Entered illegally without passport or ID papers
  • Has false papers, goods and money not accounted for
  • Has no adult with them or to meet them
  • Is with an adult who refuses to leave them alone
  • Has no money but a working mobile phone
  • Is reluctant to give personal details

Once in the UK the child:

  • Receives unexplained calls
  • Has money from an unknown source
  • Shows signs of sexual or physical abuse
  • Has not been enrolled in a school or with a GP
  • Seems to do work in various locations

The child’s ‘sponsor’:

  • Has previously made multiple visa applications for other children or acted as guarantor; or
  • Is known to have acted as guarantor for others who have not returned to their countries of origin at the expiry of the visas


Identification of trafficked children may be difficult, as they might not show obvious signs of distress or abuse. Some children are unaware that they have been trafficked; while others may actively participate in hiding that they have been trafficked. Any child transported for exploitative reasons is considered to be a trafficking victim in line with the Palermo Protocol, whether or not they have been forced or deceived. This is partly because it is not considered possible for children to give informed consent. Even when a child understands what has happened, they may still appear to submit willingly to what they believe to be the will of their parents or accompanying adults. It is important that these children are protected too.

Potential victims of modern slavery may:

  • Be reluctant to come forward with information
  • Not recognise themselves as having been trafficked or enslaved
  • Tell their stories with obvious errors

If the victim’s trafficker or modern slavery facilitator is present when the victim is questioned initially, frontline staff must look out for non-verbal communication and body language between the victim and trafficker or modern slavery facilitator.

Victims’ early accounts may also be affected by the impact of trauma. In particular, victims may experience post traumatic stress disorder, which can result in the following symptoms:

  • Hostility
  • Aggression
  • Difficulty in recalling details or entire episodes
  • Difficulty concentrating

Child victims may find it additionally hard to disclose as the traffickers may have given them inaccurate information about the role of authorities, they may have had bad experiences with corrupt authorities in their home country or during their journey.

How to share intelligence / information with Hampshire Constabulary

The ‘Community Partnership Information Form’ must be used to share non-urgent information that relates to the Missing, Exploited and Trafficked agenda and inter-connecting issues, such as Modern Slavery.

 The Community Partnership Information Form can be found on the Resource Library. Completed forms must be sent electronically to:


Information may be sanitised and used in subsequent partnership forums for the purposes of identifying and mitigating risk. The form is not a referral form, nor does it replace any pre-existing referral or notification mechanism. 

Help and Advice

If you are concerned that a child may be at risk of sexual exploitation and/or trafficking:

  • In an emergency contact the Police
  • Or contact Children’s Services on 0300 555 1384

International Centre for the Study of Sexually Exploited and Trafficked Young People: This international centre seeks to increase the understanding of, and improve responses to, CSE, violence and trafficking. The website includes their latest research.


The Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre (CEOP)

CEOP works with child protection partners across the UK and overseas to identify the main threats to children and coordinates activity against these threats that bring offenders to account.


Barnardo’s: The largest provider of child sexual exploitation support services in the UK. This page provides information on the work that they do and links to their own research and resources relating to CSE.


PACE (Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation)

PACE works alongside parents and carers of children who are being, or are at risk of being, sexually exploited by perpetrators external to the family


NSPCC: Information research and resources on CSE.


Lucy Faithfull Foundation

The CSE Toolkit, which gives guidance on understanding and preventing CSE