More information for children and young people

What is child criminal exploitation? 

The exploitation of children and young people is when a criminal (sometimes older than the child/young person) forces or persuades a child or young person to do something illegal, sometimes in exchange for something they need (money, affection, drugs/alcohol). Children and young people can sometimes believe that these criminals are their friends or looking out for them, but sometimes they are threatened and physically, emotionally or sexually abused. It is illegal for someone to force a child to commit a crime or commit, regardless of whether the child/young person seems willing or not. 

There are lots of different ways that a child or young person can be exploited, but it often starts by the criminal targeting and grooming the child/young person (getting them to like them). Sometimes a criminal will target a child/young person who has had a difficult upbringing, or is having problems at school. The exploitation can also involve forced sexual activity where the child/young person is made to do sexual things either to themselves or others. This is not ok and is never the child’s fault. 


Not all criminals who exploit children are part of gangs. But a lot of the time, criminals have links with other criminals who may make up a gang.

A gang can be a group of mates who hang around together. But some gangs are involved in crime. Sometimes gangs are violent and might fight other gangs or carry weapons. Being in a gang is not against the law, however if you are being forced to join a gang you should tell someone about it, or call Childline. 

Being in a gang can make you feel part of something or that you belong. But some gangs take part in criminal activity and might try to get you involved with them. Being part of a gang like this can be dangerous. Sometimes you can be forced to commit a crime or do things that are unsafe.

If a gang carries knives or other weapons, they might get them out to show off or intimidate people. This can be very scary for other people, especially if they think the gang will use them.

If you’re feeling pressured to be in a gang:

  • Remember no one has the right to pressure you
  • Spend more time with friends who aren’t involved in the hang, or places where you know they won’t be
  • You can talk to a safe/trusted adult or to Childline counsellors if you’re being forced into a gang 

County Lines

County lines is the Police term for gangs supplying drugs from one place to another, using dedicated mobile phone lines or “deal lines”.

The gang activity usually comes with violence, drug dealing and exploitation; having a devastating impact on young people, vulnerable adults and local communities. Gangs will use children, and vulnerable people, to move drugs and money, criminally exploiting them, and they might target vulnerable adults to use their homes as a base to commit this type of crime. 

County lines is a major issue involving things like:

  • drugs
  • violence/weapons
  • gang membership
  • criminal and sexual exploitation

The use of threat or force to join a gang or be offered things in exchange for drug running for a criminal gang or individual, or involvement in county lines, is illegal. The law aims to protect children and young people and recognises that it is never their fault. Police and other professionals want to stop these criminal gangs and individuals, and would encourage any child or young person to tell a safe adult about what may be happening. 


Being in a new relationship can be exciting.  It is normal to feel happy at this stage and to enjoy feeling special or loved.  But relationships can change and things can go wrong.  

A healthy relationship should be based on respect, kindness and trust.  It should make you feel good.  It should not make you feel pressurised into doing things that make you uncomfortable or unhappy.  If this starts to happen then it might be time to end the relationship or seek help and advice.    

You can get more information on this here:


Having sex is a big decision and it is important that you do it at a time that is right for you.  You should never feel pressured into having sex or doing things that make you feel uncomfortable or worried.  

Consent means that you are saying yes without feeling like you have to.  People should always ask for consent, even in relationships.  It is also important to remember that you must give consent each time.  Saying yes once does not mean saying yes always.  You cannot give consent if you are under 16 or under the influence of drugs or if you are drunk.  

If you are not sure about any of this you should speak to someone you trust or Childline.   

More information available here:


Sexting includes sending naked or sexual images and having sexual conversations.  You should not feel pressurised into doing this by anyone, and it is important to remember that once you send a text like this you cannot control where it goes.  

If you are under 18 it is illegal for anyone to take or have a sexual photo of you. This includes photos you have taken yourself.  This means that if someone forces you to take or share a sexual photo they are breaking the law.  

If you have already shared an image, you should ask for the person to delete it.  If it is online you can request for this to be removed.  

More information on this can be found at the Childline website:


Grooming is when someone tries to pressurise a young person into doing something sexual.  This can happen online or in person.

If someone is an abuser, they might start by being nice to you, giving you attention or buying gifts to make you like them.  However, they may then start to force you into sexual activity and ask you to keep secrets.  They may also threaten or blackmail you so you don’t tell anyone.  Sexual activity can include sexting, sending naked images or performing sexual acts.  

Online people can pretend to be someone they are not, and so it is important that you don’t trust people unless you really know who they are.  

Groomers can be the same age as you, older or younger.  They can be both male and female.  They can be very persuasive, and so it is important to speak out if anything happens that makes you feel worried or uncomfortable.  

You can find more information on grooming at:

Worried about a friend?

If you are worried about a friend there are a number of things you can do.  These include:

  • Speaking to your friend and letting them know you are there for them
  • Speak to an adult you trust
  • Speak to Childline
  • Call 999 if you think someone is in immediate danger 

It is important to remember to take care of yourself too, and not to put yourself at risk.  

Where to get help

You can get more information on all of these topics at external link will open in a new window or you can call Childline on 0800 1111.  Childline are at the other end of the phone, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  

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