The Home Office defines child criminal exploitation as: 'Child Criminal Exploitation occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, control, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18. (Criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults, Home Office 2018). They note that criminal exploitation can impact on vulnerable adults as well as children and:
- can affect any child or young person (male or female) under the age of 18 years
- can affect any vulnerable adult over the age of 18 years
- can still be exploitation even if the activity appears consensual
- can involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance and is often accompanied by violence or threats of violence
- can be perpetrated by individuals or groups, males or females, and young people or adults
- if typified by some form or power imbalance in favour of those perpetrating the exploitation. Whilst age may be the most obvious, this power imbalance can also be due to a range of other factors including gender, cognitive ability, physical strength, status, and access to economic or other resources.
The National Crime Agency's County Lines and Drug Supply, Vulnerability and Harm Report (2018) identifies that sexual exploitation or abuse is also a feature of County Lines activity. This can take the form of grooming vulnerable girls and women or the threat or use of sexcal violence as a means of coercion or control.