Child abuse and sexual exploitation

Sexual exploitation

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child abuse and is a national problem from which South Yorkshire is not exempt.

South Yorkshire Police is committed to preventing child sexual abuse, helping victims and bringing offenders to justice.

Sexual offences against children are some of the most serious that the Force has to tackle. The effects of sexual exploitation on victims can be long-term and last long into adulthood. 

What is child sexual exploitation?

Sexual exploitation is a form of abuse where young people are forced or manipulated into sexual activity. The abuser may groom the young person into trusting them – this can be done face-to-face or online – and they then exploit this trust for their own gain. Child Sexual Exploitation can take many forms and victims and perpetrators can be from any social or ethnic background.

Sometimes offenders may get the young person to engage in sexual activity by giving them attention, treats, alcohol, drugs or a place to stay; sometimes they may manipulate the young person into believing they are in a consensual relationship and that they love them. Either way, the young person is being taken advantage of through this controlling behaviour; it is child abuse and the victims face huge risks to their physical, emotional and psychological health. 

What signs are there that a child is being sexually exploited?

Following the Children’s Commissioner Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation In Gangs and Groups, the research and analysis that was conducted identified the following typical vulnerabilities in children prior to abuse: 

  • living in a chaotic or dysfunctional household (including parental substance use, domestic violence, parental mental health issues, parental criminality)
  • history of abuse (including familial child sexual abuse, risk of forced marriage, risk of honour based violence, physical and emotional abuse and neglect)
  • recent bereavement or loss
  • gang association either through relatives, peers or intimate relationships
  • attending school with young people who are sexually exploited
  • children with learning disabilities
  • unsure about their sexual orientation or unable to disclose sexual orientation to their families
  • friends with young people who are sexually exploited
  • homelessness
  • lacking friends from the same age group
  • living in a gang neighbourhood
  • living in residential care
  • living in hostel, bed and breakfast accommodation or a foyer
  • low self-esteem or self-confidence
  • young carers.

Everyone has a responsibility to be curious about what happens in their community, particularly if it is evident that a child under the age of 16 is  in a sexually active relationship, with an imbalance of power or age. The following signs and behaviour are generally seen in children who are already being sexually exploited:

  • missing from home or care
  • physical injuries
  • drug or alcohol misuse
  • regular offending
  • repeat sexually-transmitted infections, pregnancy and terminations
  • absence from school
  • change in physical appearance
  • evidence of sexual bullying and/or vulnerability through the Internet
  • estranged from their family
  • receipt of gifts from unknown sources
  • recruiting others into exploitative situations
  • poor mental health
  • self-harm including thoughts of or attempts at suicide. 

What does South Yorkshire Police do to tackle child sexual exploitation?

All uniformed and detective officers in South Yorkshire have received child sexual exploitation awareness training and it is every officers' responsibility to spot the warning signs of sexual exploitation when interacting with young people. In addition, the Force has a number of specially trained officers who deal specifically with child sexual exploitation cases and missing people.

These staff are co-located within multi-agency teams within each borough of South Yorkshire. These teams are dedicated to safeguarding young people, working with at risk individuals. Disrupting offenders and helping victims escape the cycle of abuse. 

How can I get help?

Always call 999 in an emergency, if a crime is in progress or a life is at risk. For other incidents please contact South Yorkshire Police on 101.

Barnsley – If you have concerns regarding children in Barnsley call 01226 438831 or 01226 772423

Doncaster – If you have concerns regarding children in Doncaster call 01302 737777

Rotherham – If you have concerns regarding children in Rotherham call 01709 823987

Sheffield – If you have concerns regarding children in Sheffield call 0114 2734934

Alternatively, you can contact Childline on 0800 11 11 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Who does it affect?

This type of abuse could happen to any young person from any background. It happens to boys and young men as well as girls and young women. The victims of abuse are not at fault. Abusers are very clever in the way they manipulate and take advantage of the young people they abuse.

What can I do as a parent or carer?

As a parent or carer, it is important to discuss with children the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships to help them understand the potential risks.

Children and young people may find it difficult to recognise that they are being exploited. The person abusing them could come from any gender, race or culture.

There are a number of practical steps you can take to protect children such as:

  • Making sure you understand the risks associated with your child being online and putting measures in place to minimise these risks.
  • Being cautious of older friends your child may have, or relationships with other young people where they appear to have control over your child
  • Being aware of new, unexplained gifts or possessions and carefully monitoring any instances of staying out late or not returning home
  • Staying alert to changes in behaviour or any physical signs of abuse such as bruising.

The PACE - Parents against child sexual exploitation website gives further information and advice for parents.

For more information, please see the following resources:

Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre

NSPCC's document: 'What can I do?' Protecting your child from sexual abuse

Home Office's document: Keeping Children Safe – Information to help you keep your child safe from sexual abuse.



Our role

The Force’s primary responsibility in cases of child abuse is to protect the community and bring offenders to justice.

The specific focus of the police is to safeguard children and to identify those responsible for committing abusive acts, in order to secure the best evidence possible.


Public Protection Units

Public protection units fulfil the police role and there are dedicated units located at Sheffield, Doncaster, Barnsley and Rotherham.

Highly experienced child abuse investigators work from these units and investigate all aspects of child abuse, whether this is of a sexual, physical, emotional or neglectful nature.

These include all inter-familial incidents, abuse by professionals or those in a position of trust and historic sexual abuse. These offences are fully investigated by Child Abuse Officers who specialise in interviewing children. Each case is dealt with thoroughly and professionally, including the interview of potential suspects through to any subsequent court hearing.

Each Public Protection Unit has access to specialist interview suites, where victims accounts can be taken sympathetically and in comfortable surroundings.


Sarah's Law/Child Sex Offenders Disclosure Scheme

For more information on Sarah's Law/Child Sex Offenders Disclosure scheme, please click the link below: