How does exploitation relate to missing?

It’s a Penalty and Missing People are honoured to partner during It’s a Penalty’s Birmingham Campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking and people who have gone missing in the West Midlands and therefore may be at risk of exploitation. 

How does exploitation relate to missing?

There are very strong links between missing and exploitation. Children who are at risk of or experiencing exploitation are one of the highest risk groups of children for going missing.

By its very nature, exploitation is intrinsically linked with missing: it can be both a cause and effect of going missing: 

  • Children may be exploited while they are missing from home or care
  • Children may be missing in order to perform an exploitative task
  • Children may go missing to escape the consequences of exploitation 

Missing People’s Hertfordshire Team provides support to young people after they have returned from a missing episode to discuss what happened while they are away and what can be put in place to ensure they do not leave again. During these discussions, we found that between July 2017 – March 2018 1 in 7 children disclosed that they had been sexually exploited, and 1 in 12 were either a current or past victim of criminal or another form of child exploitation. 

The impacts of this exploitation can be devastating. 

As part of our research, we have heard from families whose children have been excluded from school, suffered serious injuries, involvement in the criminal justice system, and homelessness. One participating family shared their experience: “The things that he’s experienced over the last few years have, you know these are the years when you’re supposed to be learning from your adults […] but he’s learnt from, you know, people who are criminals, people who are exploiting them, so they teach them things that are not normal.” / “He was in a terrible state. He was covered in dirt from head to toe. He looked like he might not have slept. He looked delirious almost. He looked like he had hardly eaten.” 

We also know that trafficked children who go missing from care are at high risk of being re-trafficked, sometimes by those who trafficked them in the first instance. These children are often very difficult to find if they do go missing, ending up in exploitative, unsafe situations. 

Missing People believes that the answer lies in a better multi-agency response to the issue. This should include training for all professionals working with young people, from teachers, to social workers, to those working in the police, including on the links between missing and exploitation and how to respond when risks are identified. It is critical that these children are safeguarded as a priority, and that multi-agency professionals work together to keep these children safe. 

It is also crucial that those affected by exploitation, including family members, can access support from people who understand what they are experiencing and are able to provide emotional support and practical help with their experiences. 

Have you been affected by exploitation?

Missing People’s SafeCall service is here to help, offering confidential support to young people and their families.

Through speaking with one of our specialists, you can talk through what you are worried about, helping us to better understand the risks that you or your child are facing.

Call or text 116 000 today or visit our website to learn more. 

Written by Missing People