What is known about child sexual exploitation in the UK

January 1, 1995


This document arose out of the work of the European Forum for Child Welfare, drawing on papers and discussions from two European conferences on Child Pornography and Sexual Exploitation held in London and Brussels in 1995. The report:

  • summarises what is currently known about the sexual exploitation of children;
  • documents responses to sexual exploitation in terms of legislation, policy and practice;
  • explores the interconnectedness of pornography, prostitution and trafficking;
  • examines the routes in and out of, and the impacts of, sexual exploitation;
  • highlights gaps in knowledge and in the policy framework;
  • places all of the above in a children’s rights and child protection context;
  • focuses on Britain, whilst also taking account of both the European and global contexts.

Main Findings:

  1. Whilst a basis for action on this issue exists in international law and convention, the current situation is that most national and regional governments have failed to make children’s rights and quality of life a priority – this failure continues to provide a social legitimation for violations of children’s rights, including explicit forms of abuse and violence.
  2. The sex industry relies upon and trades in all forms of inequality; children’s particular powerlessness (in that they have more limited legal and practical options than adults), and in various contexts their individual survival needs, make them a unique target both for consumers and producers.
  3. Further debate and exploration of definitions surrounding the sexual exploitation of children is urgently needed, since they form the conceptual framework within which legislation, policy, data collection and research are located.
  4. Children’s involvement in sexual exploitation creates shame, humiliation and powerlessness – for many the knowledge that a permanent visual record exists of their abuse in the form of pornography is an impossibly painful burden.
  5. In terms of ensuring their own physical survival, there are important differences in the contexts of children and young people globally, and hence in the factors which account for their being drawn into sexual exploitation, and the conditions which would provide them with an effective and sustainable route out.
  6. Most national and international responses to the sexual exploitation of children have focused on a legislative framework which enables prosecution of producers, procurers and traffickers, with the assistance element to children and young people being left primarily to the voluntary sector and charities.
  7. There are two central problems which currently hinder the development of a child protection and child welfare framework on sexual exploitation: firstly the over-emphasis of child protection work on abuse in a familial context and secondly the fact that most police work is located within ‘vice’ sections or crime desks and referrals are seldom made to child protection sections of the police, let alone other agencies.

See Research Report: Splintered Lives: Sexual Exploitation of Children in the Context of Children’s Rights and Child Protection

Grant Holder: CWASU

Sponsor: Barnardo’s, ChildLine, NCH, NCVCCO and NSPCC

  • Project Team:
    Linda Regan, Liz Kelly, Rachel Wingfield, Sheila Burton