Last year, Childline held almost 200 counselling sessions with children and young people in Scotland about child sexual exploitation.
This is a type of abuse, in which a child or young person is coerced or groomed into performing a sexual activity, in exchange for things like expensive gifts, drugs, money, status or affection.
In many cases, the child is not even aware they are being abused. They may believe they are in a loving and consensual relationship and be oblivious to the grooming and abuse that is taking place.
Perpetrators often target a vulnerable young person and form a relationship with them; giving them compliments and gifts. At first, they may not ask the child to take part in sexual activities but will build their trust until the child feels like they are safe cared for and understood by them.
Child sexual exploitation can take place both off and online. In more than 40% of the Childline contacts about this issue last year, children talked about it happening online. This will often involve the victim being persuaded or coerced into sending sexually explicit images or videos of themselves or having sexual conversations with the perpetrator.
Once the offender has these images, videos or conversations, they can use the material for blackmail purposes so that they can continue the abuse.
It can be difficult to know if a child is being sexually exploited, but signs can include unhealthy or inappropriate sexual behaviours; being frightened of certain people, places or situations; being secretive; sharp changes in mood or character; having lots of money or expensive items that they can’t or won’t explain, and physical signs of abuse like bruises or cuts.
If a child feels safe enough around you to disclose they are being sexually exploited or abused, it’s important to give them the space to tell you and to reassure them that they’ve done the right thing by telling you.
A disclosure should be reported soon after you’ve been told about the abuse so the details are fresh in your mind and action can be taken quickly. Our NSPCC helpline is there for anyone worried about a child, and you can speak to our child safety experts anonymously if you wish.
If a child is in immediate danger, it’s always best to call the police on 999 straight away.
Our NSPCC helpline can be contacted at email@example.com or on 0808 800 5000 and children can contact Childline for free on 0800 1111 or childline.org.uk 365 days a year, and speak to a counsellor about any worry or concern they may have.