How to talk to children and young people about sexual abuse and exploitation

This advice from the Department for Education is aimed mainly at parents, but it is useful for any adult who has a close relationship with a child or young person, and wants to help them stay safe from abuse and exploitation.

It was written as part of the Department’s 2018 campaign called ‘Together, we can tackle child abuse’ which is aimed mainly at tackling child abuse and neglect within family situations, but the article is relevant for young people potentially affected by sexual exploitation too.

Read the advice on the Huffington Post website here.

How to talk to children about staying safe online

The NSPCC has some excellent advice about how to talk to children about their use of the internet and the risks it poses. There’s also a helpline you can call to ask any questions about internet safety: 0808  800 5002.

Using online tools

As young people are so familiar with technology, it can also be useful to show them films and other resources online can help to reinforce the message.   Here are some good ones you might wish to share with them:

  • The Real Love Rocks website from Barnardo’s has some good advice for young people.  There’s a video explaining what CSE is, a list of top tips for staying safe, and where to get help.
  • is a website from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (CEOP) that aims to empower and protect young people from the harms of sexual abuse and exploitation through education.  There are sections for young people, parents, and teachers and children’s workers.
  • CEOP has also made an interactive film called First to a Million, which is aimed at 13 to 18-year-olds and follows a group of teens in their battle to reach a million views online by making increasingly outrageous films.  At each step the viewer gets to choose what the characters do next, teaching teens how easy it is to end up in a risky situation.
  • Barnardo’s has also launched an award-winning smartphone app called Wud u? that aims to show young people the behaviours that could put them at risk of being sexually exploited, through illustrated, interactive stories.
  • ChildLine has a smartphone app called Zipit, which children and young people can use to send witty images if they are pressured to send explicit ones.  “The app that helps you get flirty chat back on track” also has a flirting guide with tips on how to navigate intimate chats. It can be downloaded for free on the App Store or Google Play.

What should you do if a child or young person tells you they are being exploited?

If you’re in a situation where your own or another child discloses abuse to you, you should:

  • Listen carefully

  • Avoid passing opinion

  • Tell them you believe them

  • Make sure they know the abuse is not their fault

  • Reassure them they have done the right thing by opening up to you

  • Tell them you will help them

  • Explain what you’ll do next – it’s important to be open and honest about next steps

  • Report the abuse immediately, either to your local council, the NSPCC or the police. You can remain anonymous when you report your concerns about a child or young person if you’d prefer.

We all have a role to play in keeping children safe. If you think it, report it.