Sexual Exploitation

What it is?

Sexual exploitation is a type of sexual abuse. The definition from the Department for Education talks about children but can also be applied to adults:

“Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology." (DfE, Feb2017)

Adults can and have been victims of sexual exploitation, the effects are devastating and as with children, sometimes the victims do not realise that they are in an abusive situation which makes it difficult to ask for help and accept support.

Who it happens to and who are the perpetrators?

Both males and females can be sexually exploited. The adult themselves does not always realise that they have been or are being exploited.

It is the vulnerability (whether that be age, disability, illness, poor life experiences, previous victims of abuse, isolation) of the alleged victim that is important, not just their age. Victims are groomed and exploited in many different ways e.g. online, gangs, “boyfriend”.

Perpetrators are often male but women and girls are known to be perpetrators too.  Perpetrators may work together in groups or alone.

Possible signs

  • Unexplained money, clothes and mobile phones
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Evidence or suspicions of sexual assault
  • Self-harm or significant changes in emotional wellbeing
  • Change in physical appearance/clothing
  • Being isolated from peers and social networks
  • Increase in use of drugs or alcohol.

Links to other forms of abuse

Sexual or criminal exploitation is usually linked to other forms of abuse or crime, this could be:

  • Modern Slavery and Trafficking (moving a person from one location to another to exploit them)
  • County Lines
  • Gangs
  • Cuckooing (when your home is taken over by others and usually used for criminal activity such as selling drugs)

To learn about this in more depth you could read the real and very tragic Safeguarding Adult Reviews about Carol – TeeswideHarry – BournemouthMarie – Bournemouth

Thurrock Safeguarding Adults Board - Exploratory study and nature of sexual exploitation in Thurrock

The Thurrock Safeguarding Adults Board  – Exploratory study of the scale and nature of sexual exploitation of adults and young people in Thurrock

Victims, and potential victims, of adult sexual exploitation will be better protected thanks to a ground breaking study carried out by Thurrock Safeguarding Adults Board (TSAB) and The Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University (LMU). 

The research has identified some important areas of development in our response to the needs of victims of sexual exploitation in Thurrock. Thurrock safeguarding Adults Board are working closely with partners from the statutory agencies and voluntary sector, as well as victims and the wider community to address these and so reduce this exploitation and improve our services to victims.

Sheila Coates MBE, Director SERICC (South Essex Rape and Incest Crisis Centre) said: “As a specialist Thurrock based sexual violence and abuse service we welcome the CWASU study and look forward to the development of a proactive whole systems approach, to aid the understanding, identification and responses to victims-survivors and their families. The comprehensive information within the report will be invaluable to all partner agencies when developing services to improve the lives of victims-survivors.”

Neil Woodbridge, Thurrock Lifestyle Solutions “As a Social Enterprise who work with vulnerable women we were happy to partner with others and allow the voice of the people we support and their stories to be heard. As part of this research I was privileged to chair some of the initial meetings, but I am extremely grateful for the coordination and insight that Levi Sinden brought to it. Sadly, the research clearly evidenced that there is a particular cohort of people in Thurrock who are vulnerable to exploitation and for us, it is the work going forward to not only protect them but also give them the resilience they need which we look forward to”.


We provide an Essex wide service to victims and survivors of all forms of sexual violence by offering specialist emotional support, counselling and advocacy for adults, children, young people, family and their supporters.  For support please visit Synergy Essex website 

Exploratory study of the scale and nature of sexual exploitation of adults and transition aged young people in Thurrock

Worried about an adult? 01375 511000

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