Child Criminal Exploitation

Children can be exploited in many ways, including being trafficked, sexually exploited and used to run drugs. All of these come under the banner of child criminal exploitation.

Understanding of child criminal exploitation (CCE) and the scale of the problem is still limited. What we do know is that there is a need for agencies to work together to understand the bigger picture, using tools such as contextual safeguarding alongside an understanding of the different ways in which children may be exploited.

This is emphasised in a Joint Targeted Area Inspection report (JTAI) in November 2018, which stated:

As we reported in 2016, understanding exploitation of children ‘is not simply about identifying the characteristics of children who are vulnerable to abuse… it requires a wider perspective and understanding of the contexts, situations and relationships in which exploitation [of children] is likely to manifest’.

Definition

Child Criminal Exploitation… occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, control, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18. The victim may have been criminally exploited even if the activity appears consensual. Child Criminal Exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.

Home Office, September 2018

Quotation marks

CCE involves children up to the age of 18.  It is not possible to identify a lower age limit for when children become exposed to CCE as indications are that the starting ages across all of the forms of CCE identified below are getting younger – arguably the younger the child the less likely they are to be arrested or identified by law enforcement (the age of criminal responsibility – i.e. the age at which you can be arrested for a crime – is 10 years old in England).  The JTAI referred to above notes that “all children are vulnerable to criminal and sexual exploitation, not just specific groups”, with “exploited children coming from a range of backgrounds”.

The common feature across all of the forms of CCE is the imbalance of power.  Often children and young people will receive something in exchange for them completing acts or favours for the person exploiting them.  The something may be gifts, status in a group or gang, somewhere to live, etc.  The acts or favours required in return are usually criminal in nature.

The imbalance of power means that consent is not considered, and that choices that the child or young person believes that they have may be nothing of the sort.

Child sexual exploitation

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Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is a form of sexual abuse of young people. It is not just something that affects teenage girls or specific groups and can happen in and out of school.  It involves an individual or group coercing, manipulating and deceiving a child into sexual activity. Children as young as 8 have been sexually exploited.

County lines

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County lines are a network between an urban centre and county location where drugs are sold often over a mobile phone. Children and vulnerable people are used to transport drugs, cash or even weapons. It can involve intimidation, blackmail and serious violence.

Trafficking

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The trade of humans for the purposes of forced labour, slavery or sexual exploitation is understood to be one of the fastest growing areas of trans-national criminal organisations, and has devastating effects on the victims.

Modern slavery

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Modern slavery can affect anyone, regardless of age and gender, with research suggesting that at least a third of victims are male and a quarter of victims are children.  Modern slavery is mostly a hidden crime, and to get a true picture of prevalence is very challenging. Modern slavery is seen as an umbrella term.

One of the key messages from those working with children involved in the different aspects of CCE is to not give up trying to work with the children and young people, even where they are not willing to engage.  The JTAI found:

Some areas and agencies need to do more to recognise the complexity of some children’s lives. The behaviours that children present with, such as offending or violence, may result from exploitation outside the home and/or from abuse at home. Any interventions need to take into account all risks and needs. We must all understand that children who have been criminally exploited are the victims of crime.

Resources

  • Consent: It’s as simple as tea

    YouTube video by Blue Seat Studios helping people of all ages understand what is meant by consent by using the analogy of a cup of tea.

  • What makes a good relationship?

    Poster developed by Catch 22 providing an easy way to help children to think about relationships and what a good relationship is.

  • Child criminal exploitation – how do gangs recruit and coerce young people

    Poster from Catch 22 summarising the pattern of exploitation from friendship, to building trust to using threats.

  • Criminal Exploitation: Stages of Recruitment

    Two page document produced by the Children’s Society breaking down recruitment into Criminal Exploitation into four stages and providing information about what young people may experience at each stage of recruitment – can also be used when considering cases of exploitation.

  • Protecting children from criminal exploitation, human trafficking and modern slavery: an addendum

    This report is about the findings from three joint targeted area inspections, carried out in the spring of 2018 that examined ‘the multi-agency response to child exploitation and children missing from home, care or education’. It is an addendum to our 2016 report: ‘‘Time to listen’ – a joined up response to child sexual exploitation and missing children’.

  • Child exploitation disruption toolkit

    The toolkit is primarily aimed at frontline staff, including law enforcement, social care, education, housing and the voluntary sector, working to safeguard children and young people under the age of 18 from sexual and criminal exploitation.