Quick Exit



Exploitation involves the misuse or manipulation of individuals for personal gain, often at the expense of their well-being, rights, or dignity. Vulnerable individuals, including children, the elderly, and those with disabilities, are particularly susceptible to various forms of exploitation, which can have devastating consequences on their physical, emotional, and financial welfare.

Exploitation can take various forms, including financial, sexual, labour, or emotional exploitation. Perpetrators may use coercion, deception, or abuse of power to exploit vulnerable individuals for monetary gain, personal gratification, or control.

Exploitation can have profound and lasting effects on the lives of vulnerable individuals. It can lead to financial ruin, loss of autonomy, trauma, social isolation, and psychological distress. Children and adults alike may suffer from diminished self-esteem, trust issues, and a sense of powerlessness as a result of exploitation.

Recognising Signs of Exploitation

Identifying signs of exploitation requires vigilance and awareness. These signs may include sudden changes in financial circumstances, unexplained injuries, withdrawal from social activities, reluctance to discuss certain topics, or signs of coercion or manipulation in relationships.

The NSPCC have advice about how to spot the signs of criminal exploitation and involvement in gangs. They also have advice on things to do to help a stop a child getting involved in a gang, or to help them if they join. They have information to help professionals recognise grooming.

The Home Office has guidance on criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults which includes more detail on forms and methods of exploitation including the use of social media, online platforms and ‘cuckooing’ (also known as forced home invasion) where criminals take over the homes of vulnerable individuals.

The NHS provides information on how to spot child sexual exploitation.

The Children’s Society has a dedicated website #LookCloser to help everyone get to know the signs of child exploitation and County Lines. It also has specific signs for people who work in:

  • Banking
  • Delivery services
  • Hotels, rented accommodation and caravan parks
  • Public transport
  • Retail
  • Taxis, ride shares, private vehicles
  • Fast food restaurants

They also offer a free, year-round programme of learning for any professional working with or overseeing services for children and young people, including those in frontline roles up to strategic leads and commissioners.

Safeguarding Measures

Safeguarding vulnerable individuals from exploitation involves implementing preventative measures and providing support services. This includes raising awareness, educating communities, implementing policies and regulations, and offering accessible support networks and resources.

Taking action against exploitation requires a collaborative effort. It involves reporting concerns to relevant authorities, supporting victims in accessing resources and assistance, and advocating for systemic changes to prevent exploitation and protect vulnerable individuals.

Putting the victim first

It is important when working with an individual suspected of being exploited that their activity may appear consensual, and they may not recognise that they are being exploited. The distinction between victim and perpetrator may appear unclear. This may be the case especially for those transitioning into adulthood. The Children’s Society have written guidance for professionals on the appropriate use of language when discussing children and their experience of exploitation in a range of contexts.

However, individuals who have been groomed and exploited into criminal activity have not freely chosen to be involved, cannot consent to being exploited and so should be seen as victims first and foremost.

It is also important to recognise that they are likely to have had traumatic experiences which they may have begun to normalise. You should consider responses from a trauma- informed perspective and take an approach that puts the child, young person or vulnerable adult first, including involving them in the safeguarding process and discussing next steps with them to build their trust.


Safeguarding vulnerable individuals from exploitation is a collective responsibility that requires ongoing education, awareness, and proactive intervention. By recognising the signs, taking decisive action, and accessing available support services, communities can work together to protect the rights and well-being of those vulnerable to exploitation.

If you suspect any form of exploitation, don't hesitate to report your concerns to relevant authorities or seek professional help.