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Sexual exploitation can be hard to recognise because you often believe you’re in a good relationship with the person – or people – who want to abuse your trust in them. It could be a friend, or group of friends. It could be someone you think of as a boyfriend or girlfriend. It could be a person or a new group of people you’ve only just got to know. It could be someone you’ve talked to online. But whoever it is, they could use clever ways to take advantage of your relationship – and that means you can be harmed almost before you know what’s going on.

For example, someone might give you money, drugs, alcohol, gifts or somewhere to stay and then force you to do one or more of these things in return:

  • have sex with them
  • do something sexual to them
  • be touched inappropriately, in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable
  • look at sexual images – including films or pictures
  • watch them do something sexual, including having sex or touching themselves sexually

That’s why it’s so important to look out for the warning signs in someone’s behaviour. So be aware, stay alert and keep safe.

What to do if you are worried about yourself or a friend

If you are worried about a situation that you or a friend is in, talk to an adult that you trust as soon as you can. You may also want to contact the Barnardo’s specialist sexual exploitation project for advice, or to talk to someone about what you’ve been through on 01489 796684.

If you, or a friend, are in immediate danger or want urgent help, call the police on 999.

Use our top tips to protect yourself from exploitation.

Three top tips to keep safe

  • Trust yourself to know when something is wrong
  • If someone makes you feel unsafe, pressured or frightened, follow your instincts and seek help
  • Don’t trust people you don’t know, even if they seem friendly – and make sure you know who you are talking to online. Never give away personal details or agree to meet someone who you have only talked to online. Don’t be tricked into doing things that are unsafe, even if they seem like fun. What might look exciting at first could be more dangerous than you realise


‘Sexting’ is a term used to describe the sharing of intimate images or video with another person. As a general rule – if you wouldn’t show it to your parents or your gran, you probably shouldn’t share it online! Once you send a message, you’re not in control of what happens to it. Remember – if a picture or video is of a boy or girl under 18 and it’s ‘indecent’ – (if it’s naked, a topless girl, contains genitals or sex acts it will be!) – it’s illegal to share, keep on your computer or on your phone.

That doesn’t mean you or your friend will be in trouble. The police understand that young people share these images with their boyfriends or girlfriends, even though it’s a bad idea. What it does mean is that if other people are sharing a picture without your or your friend’s permission, they are breaking the law and could be in serious trouble.

For further advice visit ChildLine and the South West Grid for Learning guide so you got naked online and the CEOP page selfies: the naked truth.  Or view the award winning film wildfire.