Child sexual exploitation - do you know what to look out for?

As part of a week-long campaign to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation (starts Monday 26 September), Kingston Council is urging parents and residents to look out for the warning signs.

This is how an abuser gains a child’s trust - they start by giving a child attention, then bringing them gifts, or treating them like a grown-up to make them feel ‘special’.

As part of a week-long campaign to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation (starts Monday 26 September), Kingston Council is urging parents and residents to look out for the warning signs.

Child sexual exploitation is a type of sexual abuse. It involves children receiving money, affection or other types of rewards for performing sexual activities, or for allowing others to perform sexual activities on them.

It is a hidden crime because young people often trust their abuser and don't understand that they are being abused. They may depend on their abuser, or be too scared to tell anyone what's happening.

For this reason the members of Kingston's Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB), which includes organisations such as the council and the police, are combining forces to bring this crime to the surface.

Throughout the campaign, LSCB members will be engaging with schools, care providers, voluntary groups and community organisations, to help them identify the signs of child sexual exploitation, and how to report it.

Kingston Police will be running Operation Makesafe, the Met’s London-wide response to child sexual exploitation, which seeks the help of the business community in unmasking the problem.

Speaking about the awareness week, Deborah Lightfoot, Independent Chair of the Kingston Local Safeguarding Children Board, said:

“Child sexual exploitation is a serious and alarming form of abuse, and because it often goes unreported, it is difficult to understand its prevalence.

Children and young people can be tricked into believing they're in a loving, consensual relationship by their abusers so the only way to stop it, is by ensuring there is widespread understanding of what child sexual exploitation is - among children, young people and their parents.

The wider community has an important role to play too. It’s essential to say something, if you see something.

Our week-long campaign is about giving people the knowledge and confidence to speak up”

What to look out for if you suspect a child or young person is being sexually exploited:

  • Changing behaviour. The child or young person is becoming more secretive, more distant, not seeing their usual friends, dressing in a different way, becoming tired or frequently unwell.
  • Sexual health problems. The child or young person contracts a sexually transmitted disease, experiences a pregnancy scare, is associating with older men or women, and displays marks or scars.
  • Rewards. The child or young person has more money than usual, expensive gifts, such as jewellery or mobile phones, or other items which they could not normally afford or buy on their own.
  • Abusive messages. The child or young person receives odd calls or text messages, which they are secretive about, threats or bullying on social media.
  • Periods of absence. The child or young person goes missing from home or school and becomes defensive about their whereabouts. They return home late at night, perhaps in a dishevelled state or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Cllr Richard Hudson, Cabinet Member for Children’s Social Care and Health with responsibility for safeguarding at Kingston Council, said: 

“We all have a responsibility to protect the children and young people in our care, therefore we cannot, and must not, allow this crime to go undetected in our community.

The council will be using all available channels during the campaign to ensure awareness of child sexual exploitation extends across the borough.”

During child sexual exploitation awareness week, LSCB members will also be encouraging parents and carers to be ‘internet safe’, providing them with simple tips such as how to turn on parental controls on mobile devices and consoles, as a way of preventing online grooming.

For more information about child sexual exploitation or advice about how to keep your child safe, visit the Kingston Local Safeguarding Children Board

If you are worried about a child call the Kingston Single Point of Access helpline on 020 8547 5008. If you think they might be in immediate danger call 999.