Child sexual exploitation: a guide for health practitioners

Guidelines for health practitioners on identifying and responding to a child or young person who may be at risk of or affected by sexual exploitation.

6. Young people at particular risk of child sexual exploitation

Child sexual exploitation can affect any young person, from any religion or background. This can include a young person with no previously identified vulnerabilities; for example a young person may become exploited through a friendship with someone who has a relationship with a perpetrator, or through the internet. [6]

Nevertheless, there are life experiences which are associated with increased risk of child sexual exploitation, including:

  • A history of abuse, neglect and/or disadvantage;
  • Being looked after, or formerly looked after;
  • Disrupted family life, including family breakdown, bereavement, and/or domestic abuse;
  • Multiple and fractured attachment patterns;
  • Disengagement from education, isolation from other support mechanisms;
  • Going missing from home or care environments;
  • Drug or alcohol misuse;
  • Poverty, living in a deprived community, homelessness;
  • Poor health and wellbeing, social isolation, bullying;
  • Low self-esteem, poor self-image, self-harm;
  • Gang association;
  • Having a disability, including learning disabilities/difficulties and mental health difficulties.

Low Parental Monitoring

Low parental monitoring (through lack of awareness, understanding or control of a child or young person's activity - on or offline) may increase the likelihood of that child or young person being at risk of child sexual exploitation. Low parental monitoring is of equal concern from those whose parental responsibility lies with the state to those whose family unit include two working parents who leave the child with unsupervised internet access until they return from work.

Child sexual exploitation can affect any young person under age 18.

Age of consensual sexual activity

Children under the age of 13 years cannot consent to sexual activity under any circumstances; therefore any sexual activity involving a child under the age of 13 must be passed on in accordance with local Child Protection procedures. The average age when concerns regarding child sexual exploitation are first identified is 12-15, although younger children are being increasingly identified.

The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 takes account of the circumstances when two similar aged older children consent to sexual activity. It is unlikely to be in the public interest to prosecute in the absence of any concerns regarding exploitation.


Email: Katrina McDonald

Phone: 0300 244 4000 - Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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