Signs of criminal exploitation

Here are some signs to look out for that can suggest that someone you know might be being criminally exploited.

Signs of criminal exploitation

  • Frequent missing episodes and being found in a different area to where you live
  • Found with large quantities of drugs or weapons
  • Found with drugs inside rectum or vagina
  • Unexplained amounts of money, mobile phones, credit, clothing, jewellery, new haircuts or other items and gifts
  • Being arrested in a different area to where you live – especially for drug related offences
  • Multiple referrals for incidents in the same location
  • Returned from missing episodes with injuries, or dishevelled appearance
  • Change in behaviour, ie more secretive, withdrawn, or isolated from peers, or not mixing with usual friends
  • Unexplained absences from, or not engaged in school, college, training, or work
  • Increasingly disruptive, hostile or physically aggressive at home or school, including the use of sexualised language and language in relation to drug dealing and/or violence
  • Expressions around invincibility or not caring about what happens to them
  • Increased interest in making money
  • Reports of being taken to parties, people’s houses, unknown areas, hotels, nightclubs, takeaways or out of area by unknown adults
  • Increasing use of drugs or alcohol
  • Fear of reprisal from gang members or violence from young people or adults
  • Having multiple mobile phones, sim cards or use of a phone that causes concern eg multiple callers or more texts/pings than usual
  • Possession of hotel keys/cards, or keys to unknown premises
  • Disclosure of a sexual or physical assault, followed by withdrawal of the allegation
  • Abduction or forced imprisonment
  • Entering or leaving vehicles/cars with unknown adults
  • Self harm or significant changes in emotional well-being
  • Agencies unable to engage with the child or young person
  • New peer groups and/or relationships
  • Relationships with controlling or older individuals or groups
  • Neglect


The risk to a child or young person, and their family and friends, as a result of experiencing criminal exploitation can include, but is not limited to:

  • Physical injuries, including risk of serious violence and death
  • Emotional and psychological trauma
  • Sexual violence, including sexual assault, rape, internally inserting drugs, indecent images being taken and shared as part of initiation, revenge, or punishment
  • Debt bondage, where a child or young person and their families are ‘in debt’ to the exploiters, which is then used to control the young person
  • Neglect, and the child or young person’s basic needs not being met
  • Living in unclean, dangerous and/or unhygienic environments that they have been placed in by their exploiters
  • Tiredness and sleep deprivation, where the child or young person is expected to carry out criminal activities over long periods and through the night
  • Poor attendance and/or attainment at school/college/university
  • Criminalised, criminal records, prison sentences