Children may be abused in a family or in an institutional or community setting, by those known to them or, more rarely,by a stranger for example, via the internet. They may be abused by an adult or adults, or another child or children.

Children often don’t tell others about the abuse because they are frightened about what may happen to them or they feel they may not be believed.  Although they want the abuse to stop they may love the abuser and don’t want him or her punished for the abuse.

If you suspect a child is suffering any form of abuse call (Devon) 0345 155 1071 or (Torbay) 01803 208100.

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is to a great extent a hidden problem. Children, both girls and boys, are groomed and forced, pressured or tricked into engaging in sexual activities or the taking of sexual images.

What is CSE?

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is an illegal activity by people who have power or influence over young people. It is a form of sexual abuse in which a young person is manipulated into taking part in sexual acts. It can happen directly face to face, as well as over the internet and via mobile phones.

The young person may not recognise what is happening because the abuser makes them think they are in a relationship and are special.  CSE can also happen as a result of violence, threats or intimidation. It can happen to anyone, regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity or background.

Child sexual exploitation usually involves children and young people being given gifts or favours (such as food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, or money) as a result of performing or having others performing sexual activities on them.

For victims, the pain of their ordeal and fear that they will not be believed means they are too often scared to come forward.

In 2012, Barnardo’s services worked with 1,940 children and young people in the UK who had been sexually exploited. The true number of children who are victims of sexual exploitation is likely to be much higher.  You can read more on this here

Warning signs

CSE is not always easy to spot as the warning signs can often be confused with other difficulties a child may be experiencing. These are some of the main indicators of CSE (although it is not an exhaustive list):

  • Going missing or absent for periods of time, or regularly returning home late without reasonable explanation
  • Regularly missing school
  • Being secretive about where they are and who they are with
  • Secretive use of the internet
  • Being in contact with older people online that are not part of their usual peer network
  • Having unexplained new possessions, for example a mobile phone
  • Having older boyfriends or girlfriends
  • Isolation from you or their friends
  • Drug and alcohol misuse
  • Displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviour, including how they dress
  • Mood swings or changes in behaviour
  • Changes in physical appearance such as weight loss or appearing tired all of the time or anal or vaginal soreness or an unusual discharge, and pregnancy
  • Having unexplained injuries
  • Frequent STI’s or unwanted pregnancies

For a few children these effects may be relatively short-term, depending on the individual child, the nature of the abuse and the help they receive. However, for many the effects can last into adulthood and cause a long list of problems, especially mental health problems and drug or alcohol misuse.

Parents should also be alert to any adults who pay an unusual amount of attention to their child, for example:

  • giving their child gifts, toys or favours
  • offering to take their child on trips, outings and holidays
  • seeking opportunities to be alone with their child

Who can I speak to?

If you are worried about your child, the first thing you should do is speak to someone at the MASH in Devon, (Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub) on 0345 155 1071 or email ku.vo1548011264g.xsc1548011264g.nov1548011264ed@er1548011264ucesh1548011264sam1548011264 or in Torbay, call 01803208100 or email ku.vo1548011264g.xsc1548011264g.yab1548011264rot@b1548011264uhgni1548011264draug1548011264efas.1548011264yabro1548011264t1548011264 and give as much information as you can. If you have immediate concerns about your child, please call the police on 999.

What else can I do?
It’s important to talk to your child or young person about the
differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships to help highlight potential risks.
Look out for changes in behaviour or any physical signs of abuse
Monitor any episodes of staying out late or not returning home
Record registration numbers if your child/young person is being picked up by unknown adults
Be aware of new, unexplained possessions
Put measures into place to minimise any risks associated with the child being online

The thought of a child being sexually exploited is distressing for any parent and it can have a significant impact on family life and relationships. Therefore it is important that you access support for yourself if possible. This may be through family or friends, or you may wish to access professional support, for example via Children and Young People’s Sevices or Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation (PACE).

PACE is an organisation that specifically supports parents of children and young people who are victims of CSE. For more information on what they can offer, click here.

Read more on this:


The internet has changed all lives, particularly for our children. For parents and carers the internet has opened up a whole new world of things to be aware of.

You might be struggling to keep up with the things your child is doing online and wondering if what they are doing is safe. It is important that you try to understand what they are doing online and try to discover who they are talking to.

As a parent or carer, you need to be aware of issues such as sexting, online misrepresentation and cyberbullying.

Sexting is when people share sexual images via text message. You can discover more on this here  and here

Online misrepresentation is when someone pretends to be someone else to befriend people online. Often, people use pictures of people that are younger than themselves or of the opposite sex on social media accounts and chat rooms. You can find out more here
Cyberbullying takes place online, on social networking websites or through mobile phones. It can be very persistent and is a growing problem. You can find out more here

Key points for online safety:

  • Talk to your child about what they’re up to online.
  • Encourage them to use sites which are fun, educational and that will help them to develop online skills.
  • Keep up-to-date with your child’s development online.

Children grow up fast and they will be growing in confidence and learning new skills daily.

  • Set boundaries in the online world just as you would in the real world. Think about what they might see, what they share, who they talk to and how long they spend online.
  • Keep all equipment that connects to the internet in a family space.
  • Use parental controls on devices that link to the internet, such as the TV, laptops, computers, games consoles and mobile phones.

For more information and advice about keeping children safe online you can check out the CEOP website or the Uk Safer Internet Centre

Read more on this:

Female genital mutilation (sometimes referred to as female circumcision) refers to procedures that intentionally alter and cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The practice is illegal in the UK.

However, it has been estimated that over 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the UK each year, and that 66,000 women in the UK are living with the consequences of FGM (NHS). The true extent is unknown due to the ‘hidden’ nature of the crime.

The girls may be taken to their country of origin so that FGM can be carried out during the summer holidays, allowing them time to ‘heal’ before they return to school. There are also worries that some girls may have FGM performed in the UK.

FGM is usually carried out on young girls between infancy and age 15, most commonly before puberty starts. The procedure is traditionally carried out by a woman with no medical training. Anaesthetics and antiseptic treatments are not generally used and girls may have to be forcibly restrained.
FGM can cause severe pain, bleeding, wound infections, inability to urinate, injury to vulval tissues, damage to other organs and sometimes even death.  Other complications can arise later with the onset of puberty.

You can find out more about FGM here  and here.  

Human trafficking is the trade in humans, most commonly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labour or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others. Human trafficking is a crime against the person because it violates the victim’s rights of movement through coercion and because of their commercial exploitation.

You can find out more about human trafficking from Purple Teardrop

Forced marriage is where one or both people do not (or in cases of people with severe learning disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used in force. It is an indefensible practice and is recognised in the UK as a form of violence against women and men and a serious abuse of human rights.
The pressure put on people to marry against their will can be physical or emotional and psychological. Financial abuse can also be a factor. You can find out more about this and get advice here

An honour killing is the homicide of a family member or social group by other members, due to the belief that the victim has brought shame or dishonor upon the family or community, It is often linked to reasons such as refusing to enter an arranged marriage, being in a relationship that is disapproved by their relatives, having sex outside marriage, becoming the victim of rape, dressing in ways which are deemed inappropriate, or engaging in homosexual relations.

Honour killings are especially targeted against women and homosexuals. The practice, which occurs in various cultures, is universally condemned by human rights organisations. Honour violence and killings occur worldwide, including the UK.

If you have concerns about someone’s safety please call the Police on 999.

Domestic abuse occurs when someone in a family or relationship threatens, bullies, hurts or controls another member of the family. The abuse can be physical, psychological, emotional, sexual or financial.

All family members have been known to commit domestic abuse including mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, grandparents, in-laws and step-family.

How does it affect children?

  • Domestic violence may teach children to use violence
  • Violence can affect children in serious and long-lasting ways
  • Where there is domestic abuse there is often child abuse
  • Children will often blame themselves for domestic abuse
  • Alcohol misuse is very common contributing factor when violence occurs in families
  • Pregnant women are more vulnerable to domestic violence, causing harm to the unborn child
  • It can teach them that violence is an acceptable way to resolve conflict
  • Children may learn how to keep secrets if they are witness to abuse but told not to tell anyone
  • They learn to mistrust those closest to them

There are free service for women and men experiencing domestic abuse, to access advice and support on a wide range of issues including housing, legal and benefits.

Devon Domestic Abuse Support Service

This is a local agency that provides support.
Confidential Helpline: 0345 155 1074 or gro.1548011264noved1548011264ztilp1548011264s@nim1548011264da li1548011264ame1548011264
Click here to visit the website.

National Domestic Violence Helpline

24 hour free phone Tel: 0808 2000 247
Click here to visit the website for 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline.

The Survivor’s Handbook

Provides practical support and information for women experiencing domestic violence, with simple guidance on every aspect of seeking support.
Click here to visit the Survivor’s Handbook website
If you are a male victim of domestic violence, contact:

Victim Support Men’s Helpline

Services available: Helpline for male victims of sexual and domestic abuse. Provides an opportunity to talk in confidence and anonymously
Tel: 0800 328 3623
Click here to visit the Victim support website

M.A.L.E Mens Advice Line Enquiries

Confidential helpline for male victims of domestic violence whether in straight, gay, bi sexual or transgender relationship
Tel: 0808 801 0327
Click here to visit Men’s Advice Line

The Norda Project

Support for males victims of abuse. Call 01872 321575 or 07825 220 232