Child sexual exploitation poster - he says he loves meWorried about your child?

Child sexual exploitation can be hard to detect and abusers are very clever in their manipulation. Some young people won’t even be aware that it is happening to them.

It’s not always easy to know what our children are up to or if anything is bothering them, but any combination of these tell-tale signs is a strong indicator that something is wrong and you should get help.

  • Bruising on their arms or body
  • Regularly using drugs or drinking alcohol
  • Mood swings, aggression towards others
  • Truancy or a drop in performance at school
  • Self-harm – e.g. cutting or eating disorders
  • Change in appearance, or borrowing clothes from others
  • Always tired
  • Unexplained relationships with older people
  • Staying out late, not returning home
  • They have unexplained gifts, expensive clothes, mobile phones
  • Unexplained money, frequently taking part in activities requiring money

Teach them

Teach your children about healthy relationships. Talk through strategies to help them protect themselves if they find themselves in difficult situations. Help them learn how to keep safe.

Elizabeth’s story

Read Elizabeth’s story – a real case study that gives you a parent’s perspective on what it’s like to find out your child is being sexually exploited.

PACE – Parents against child sexual exploitation

Pace works alongside parents and carers of children who are – or are at risk of being – sexually exploited by perpetrators external to the family. They offer guidance and training to professionals on how child sexual exploitation affects the whole family. Visit their advice centre.

From Pace – Parents against child sexual exploitation

Missing from home

A mother talks about her experiences of her daughter going missing from home.

More resources


Grooming is when someone builds a connection with a young person to gain their trust for the purposes of sex abuse. This can happen online or face-to-face

Online safety

Sometimes grooming and sexual exploitation takes place online. Make sure you know how to keep your children safe.

If you are worried about something that has happened online, help is available from CEOP.

Has someone acted inappropriately towards your child online? Report it to CEOP.

If your child shares something online that they wish they hadn’t, they shouldn’t feel guilty. Help is available from ChildLine who can also help you and your child get the image removed.

Running away or going missing

95% of young people at risk from sexual exploitation have gone missing at least once.

Not all young people who go missing are reported missing. This leaves them vulnerable to abuse. Trust your instincts – if you are worried your child is at risk, contact the police.

If you’re worried that your child might be thinking about running away, try taking the following steps recommended by The Children’s Society:

  • Talk to your children openly and honestly
  • Listen to them when they talk about their concerns, feelings and difficulties
  • Respect their emotional responses in every situation
  • Encourage them to succeed and work through their differences and struggles
  • Support your children’s need to gain independence and develop appropriate relationships with others
  • Create opportunities for them to learn how to make positive decisions in their lives
  • Teach your children to be accountable for their actions
  • Protect them from feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Provide a place of safety for your children, both emotionally and physically
  • Defend them openly against harassment or verbal abuse of any kind
  • Make your home a place of trust and support that meets their needs

Reporting someone missing

Before contacting the police, check the bedroom and any other place might within the house or building.

  • Check the surrounding area – gardens, sheds, garages etc.
  • Check with your child’s friends, school, work, neighbours, relatives or anyone else who may know where they are. Ask them to tell you straight away if they hear from your child.
  • Try to get hold of your child by phone, text or social networking sites such as Snapchat and Facebook.

If you know where your child is and you are concerned for their safety (e.g. they are at a place where you suspect criminal activity is taking place) you can ask the police to carry out a welfare check to make sure they are safe.

To report your child missing, call the police on 999 or 101, or contact your neighbourhood policing team. You don’t have to wait 24 hours, you can report your child missing straight away.

When they come home

Thankfully, most children who run away return of their own accord. However this doesn’t mean they haven’t been put at risk from harm while they were away.

It also doesn’t mean that they won’t go missing or run away again.

When they return:

  • Contact the police if you suspect that a crime has been committed against your child.
  • Show your child that you are happy to have them back home. Try to stay calm, rather than get angry, tell them that you love them and will help them solve any problems they have.