Exploitation and Grooming

The National Working Group Network defines child sexual exploitation as:

Exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where young people…receive ‘something’ (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of performing, and/or others performing on them, sexual activities…those exploiting the child/young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources. Violence, coercion and intimidation are common…

Exploitation can take the form of inappropriate relationships (for example, when the perpetrator is significantly older than the child); grooming and coercion from ‘boyfriends’ or from peers or gangs; and organised networks of offenders in which victims can be transported – in some cases forcibly – long distances to be abused¹.

How many children are abducted in the context of exploitation?

Action Against Abduction’s research suggests that over a fifth of police-recorded child abduction and kidnapping offences involve exploitation or grooming. Recent analyses of police data suggest the number of exploitation related abductions may be increasing substantially².


In 2011/12 police recorded 135 cases (involving 144 children) of child abduction or kidnapping that involved exploitation¹. Of these:

  • 90 per cent of victims were female.
  • Three-quarters were aged 14 or 15 years-old. 
  • Many cases involved the victim running away to be with the offender.
  • Some were reported missing as a result.
  • In an attempt to disrupt ongoing exploitative relationships, police may issue a perpetrator with a Child Abduction Warning Notice.

Use of the internet

Some cases of child sexual exploitation start online. In many cases the offending remains online, such as deceiving children into producing indecent images of themselves, participating in sexual chat or engaging in sexual activity over a webcam. However, online activity can also lead to offline offending. 7 per cent of a representative sample of online child sexual exploitation reports received by the National Crime Agency CEOP Command in 2012, involved offline meetings between the victim and perpetrator².

¹ Newiss, G. and Traynor, M. (2013) Taken: A study of child abduction in the UK. London: Parents and Abducted Children Together and Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.
² Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (2013) Threat Assessment of Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. London: Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.