The number of children and teenagers receiving Childline counselling sessions because they are worried about sexual exploitation has jumped up by a third in the last year.
The NSPCC service delivered 3,122 counselling sessions to young people concerned about CSE in 2016/17 – an average of eight a day – up from 2,340 in 2015/16.
The majority of young people were targeted via the internet.
One 12-15 year-old girl told Childline: “I was playing a game online and started talking to someone who asked me to send them rude pictures.
“They said they were my age and after talking for a while I sent them some pictures, but now they’re blackmailing me and threatening to show everyone if I don’t carry on.
“I feel really stupid and I’m scared about what will happen, what should I do?”
Girls were more likely than boys to receive counselling about child sexual exploitation (CSE) and 12-15 year-olds were the age group most likely to receive help about this issue.
NSPCC CEO Peter Wanless said it can be “confusing” and “difficult” for some children to realise they are being exploited.
“Whether child sexual exploitation is happening online or offline, groomers will use the same devious tactics to manipulate and control young people so they can abuse them for their own pleasure,” he said.
“Our Childline counsellors hear about the guilt and shame that young people feel, so it’s vital that any young person in this situation knows they are not to blame.
“We want young people to know that Childline is there for them, whatever their worry, to answer any questions and offer support and advice.”
CSE involves manipulating young people into sexual activity in exchange for gifts, money or affection and can include online and offline grooming, trafficking, sexual harassment and engaging in online sexually explicit activities or images.
“When someone told me that what he was doing was wrong because he’s much older than me it upset me and now I’m so confused about how I’m feeling."”
In counselling sessions about being groomed, young people often didn’t recognise what was happening to them, and instead believed they were in a relationship with someone they had met online. In some cases they had not met or even spoken to the individual and had no proof of who they really were.
A 14-year-old girl said: “I’m feeling scared and upset because of what’s been happening recently. I’m not allowed to talk to the boy I was in a relationship with and I miss him. I really loved him and I feel bad that he’s got in trouble because we slept together.
“When someone told me that what he was doing was wrong because he’s much older than me it upset me and now I’m so confused about how I’m feeling, I feel like a complete failure.”
“Arming children with the right information about sexuality, consent, risks and protection means sexual misconduct can be prevented, because they know how to treat others and know when something is not right,” he said.
Laura Hannah, education and wellbeing lead for sexual health charity Brook agreed, adding: “Drip feeding information to children about friendships [at an early age] can then lead on to relationships at the appropriate stage in their development.
“Talking about respect, boundaries and consent when they’re young can help to shape healthy attitudes and values and reduce the risk of sexual misconduct.”