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Sexual exploitation

Adult Sexual Exploitation (ASE) is a form of sexual abuse that involves someone taking advantage of an adult, sexually, for their own benefit through threats, bribes, and violence.

Perpetrators usually hold power over their victims, due to age, gender, sexual identity, physical strength or status.

Adults can be sexually exploited in many ways. Examples include:

  • rape
  • sexual assault
  • being tricked or manipulated into having sex or performing a sexual act
  • being trafficked into, out of, or around the UK for the purpose of sexual exploitation
  • being forced to take part in or watch pornography
  • being victim to revenge porn (when a previously taken video or photograph, which was taken with or without consent, is shared online)

Anybody can be a victim of sexual exploitation. While it mainly affects women, men can also be victims.

At one end of the scale adult sexual exploitation can describe a one-off situation between two adults, while at the other end it may include instances of organised crimes where a number of adults are trafficked and sexually exploited.

Common signs that someone is being sexually exploited include those listed below. Please note that this is not an exhaustive list and that warning signs will show themselves differently in each person. It is important to explore all concerns over someone’s behaviour and personal circumstances and to consider whether these could be signs of exploitation.

  • evidence or suspicions of sexual assault
  • self-harm or significant changes in emotional wellbeing
  • developing inappropriate or unusual relationships or associations, including relationships with controlling or significantly older people
  • displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviour, language or dress
  • being isolated from peers and social networks
  • unexplained absences, including persistently being late or going missing
  • unexplained acquisition of money, clothes and mobile phones.
  • using more than one phone, especially if both are used to communicate with different people (for example, if one phone is used exclusively to communicate with a specific group of ‘friends’)
  • receiving an excessive amount of texts or phone calls – these may be from multiple callers, some of whom may be unknown.

Getting help

Survivors UK

Survivors UK help sexually abused men as well as their friends and family. They can offer a range of support services including counselling and therapy appointments as well as online chat.

020 3322 1860

National Ugly Mugs (NUM)

National Ugly Mugs (NUM) is a national organisation which provides greater access to justice and protection for sex workers who are often targeted by dangerous individuals but are frequently reluctant to report these incidents to the police.


Preventing Exploitation Toolkit

If there is the potential for you to encounter people who are vulnerable to exploitation through your job, whether it's paid or voluntary work, please refer to this toolkit.