Sexual Exploitation

Both sexual exploitation and domestic servitude disproportionately affect women and girls. Often, victims of modern slavery will be subject to multiple forms of exploitation.

In 2020, most NRM referrals of potential victims of sexual exploitation were female - 90% of adult referrals and 85% of child referrals.

What is sexual exploitation?

Sexual exploitation involves the provision of sexual services or acts by individuals subjected to force, threats, coercion or deception designed to induce them.

As with other forms of modern slavery, sexual exploitation is largely motivated by profit, with victims forced to engage in commercial sex work, but it can include exploitation by offenders motivated by sexual gratification. Although victims can be of either sex, women and girls make up the overwhelming majority victim of sexual exploitation both in the UK and around the world.

Victims of sexual exploitation are often advertised online via adult services websites (ASWs). These legal websites provide independent sex workers with safer models of operating, enabling them to vet clients and agree services before arranging to meet. However, ASWs provide an easy access point to a very wide market, making them attractive to offenders engaged in sexual exploitation.

Sexual exploitation takes place across the UK, and can occur in brothels, hotels, short-term lets and through on-street sex work.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on sexual exploitation throughout 2020, likely shifting offending primarily to residential properties, as the closure of hotels and short term lets limited the ability of sex workers and offenders to operate in outcall models or pop-up brothels.

Anita's story

Different models of sexual exploitation

Forced sex work in a fixed location

Victims are trafficked and exploited in established locations set up specifically for sex work. This can include brothels or rooms in legitimate business premises (e.g. massage parlour).

Forced sex work in changing location

Victims are forced into sex work where the location of exploitation frequently changes. Locations include streets, clients' residence, hotels or 'pop‑up' brothels in short‑term rented property. Victims are frequently advertised online.

Trafficking for personal gratification

Victims are trafficked to residential sites controlled by offenders and sexually exploited for the offenders' own gratification. Some victims may be confined to the site for a long period of time.

Signs of sexual exploitation 627x378

Child sexual exploitation - by a group

Children are sexually exploited by groups of offenders. This is usually for personal gratification, but sometimes the exploitation involves forced sex work in fixed or changing locations and will include characteristics in those descriptions above. Offenders frequently transport victims to different locations to abuse them.

Child sexual exploitation - by an individual

Similar to exploitation by a group of offenders, this often involves the grooming of children and transporting them for the purposes of sexual exploitation, although the offending is carried out by one individual.

Modern Slavery Helpline

Get help, report a suspicion or seek advice.

08000 121 700

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