Skip to main content

IICSA published its final Report in October 2022. This website was last updated in January 2023.

IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual exploitation by organised networks investigation report


D.3: Boys and young men

33. Research suggests that:

  • there are different routes into exploitative contact for boys and young men;
  • gender is relevant to understanding risk and vulnerability, impacting on behaviour and ability to disclose;
  • boys and young men may respond differently to experiences of exploitation;
  • boys and young men are more likely to come to the attention of child sexual exploitation services via the criminal justice system; and
  • the role of masculinity and sexual identity in supporting boys and young men who have been sexually exploited is relevant.[1]

34. In 2014, Barnardo’s identified a need to raise professional awareness of boys and young men as potential victims of child sexual exploitation.[2]

35. In 2017, the Home Office funded a Barnardo’s research project, ‘Boys 2’. This was a two-year project to improve the identification and assessment of, and interventions for, boys and young men impacted by child sexual exploitation. It also aimed to develop standardised assessment documents and intervention resources for frontline professionals, with a subsequent development plan.[3]

36. In 2018, joint guidance produced by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Children’s Society and Victim Support – Boys and Young Men at Risk of Sexual Exploitation: A Toolkit for Professionals – acknowledged that the sexual exploitation experiences of boys and young men are less understood and often overlooked.[4]

37. In 2019, the government outlined its commitment to strengthening the response to male victims and survivors of crime, including sexual violence, in its Position statement on male victims of crimes considered in the cross-Government strategy on ending Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG).[5]

38. The current All Wales Practice Guide recognises the often hidden nature of child sexual exploitation against boys and young men.[6]

The experiences of boys and young men in the case studies

39. CS-A221 was a 14-year-old boy in Swansea who, in 2019, was allowed by his parents to stay for lengthy periods at the home of a registered sex offender, who groomed him. The child’s social worker was unaware of concerns about the offender and did not complete checks because the offender was thought to be a vulnerable adult. The child had not made any disclosures and refused a sexual health screening. The offender was imprisoned for breach of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order.[7]

40. CS-A90 moved to Tower Hamlets in 2018, when he was 13 years old. He went missing from home a number of times. There were also concerns about his sexual activity, county lines, gangs, and possible emotional and psychological harm. In early 2019, it was reported that CS-A90 intended to hold his birthday party in a hotel with people older than him. A child sexual exploitation assessment was completed and a strategy meeting held. The Metropolitan Police Service accepted that the focus had been criminal exploitation and drugs rather than child sexual exploitation, although CS-A90 had been put on a child protection plan.[8]

41. CS-A62 was a young man with complex disabilities in Bristol. The evidence suggests that he was sexually abused between the ages of 13 and 16.[9] Agencies took account of and were sensitive to CS-A62’s sexual orientation. Disruption activity took place in respect of adults suspected to be grooming him.[10] When he reported, aged 13, that he had been meeting up with a male described as a “known paedophile”, this was followed up and it was considered that there was little evidence to support concerns that he may be being abused.[11]

42. Several of the case study boys and young men (including CS-A43, CS-A59 and CS-A27) were sexually exploited after contact with them was initiated via an online dating app, Grindr. Risk assessment in relation to exploitation via online dating apps such as, but not limited to, Grindr is difficult. Significant multi-agency work is required to tackle it.[12]

Identifying male victims

43. The case study areas were asked to provide information about the numbers of sexually exploited males they identified between March 2017 and March 2019.

43.1. Durham Police stated that, of the total number of children discussed at the operational child exploitation group over the two years, 17 (12 percent of the total) were boys.[13] Its Child Exploitation Vulnerability Tracker, introduced in November 2019 in relation to children deemed to be at high risk, identified two boys and young men at risk of sexual exploitation in the third quarter of 2019/20 and one boy the following quarter.[14]

43.2. In Swansea in 2017/18, 14 strategy meetings (9 percent of the total) were held to discuss sexual exploitation concerns about male victims. The following year 13 boys and young men (14 percent) were discussed.[15]

43.3. In Warwickshire over the two-year period, of the children and young persons who were the subject of an initial child sexual exploitation assessment, 29 (13 percent) were male and, of those subject to a review assessment, 2 (20 percent) were male. Two boys and young men (15 percent) were discussed at multi-agency meetings because of sexual exploitation concerns and 24 (42 percent) were discussed at sexual exploitation strategy meetings.[16] Over an earlier two-year period (from 2016 to 2018) the percentage increased from 7 percent to 20 percent (although the numbers of boys and young men were not stated).[17]

43.4. In St Helens in 2017/18, 17 boys and young men were referred because of sexual exploitation concerns (14 percent of such referrals) and discussed at multi-agency meetings. The following year the figure was 13 boys and young men (11 percent).[18]

43.5. Tower Hamlets stated that 43 percent of child sexual exploitation risk assessments were completed on boys and young men from April 2018 to August 2019.[19] Over the same period, 22 percent of sexual exploitation assessments for children in care were for boys and young men (out of 47 children in care assessments).[20]

43.6. In 2017/18 in Bristol, 23 males were flagged as at significant risk of child sexual exploitation (16 percent of the then flagged total); the following year, this figure was 22 (22 percent).[21]

44. In all six case study areas, there was evidence of awareness-raising and training on identifying the sexual exploitation of boys and young men. Examples included a Barnardo’s project in Bristol and a multi-agency campaign in Warwickshire, ‘Something’s Not Right’, which aimed to increase awareness of the sexual exploitation of boys and young men and to encourage them to speak out about their experiences and seek support.[22]

45. In at least three of the case study areas, data about sexually exploited boys and young men were subsumed within the broader category of criminal exploitation. As explained in Part C, it is important that the victims of child sexual exploitation, as opposed to other forms of exploitation, can be specifically identified.

Supporting male victims

46. St Helens Council and Durham County Council made no specific child sexual exploitation services available for boys and young men.[23] However, within the Durham case studies, CS-A43, a male victim who was sexually exploited by adults who made contact with him via Grindr, received timely support from local agencies, including a referral to a specialist LGBTQ+ service, in line with his and his parents’ wishes.[24]

47. In Warwickshire, dedicated resources have been put in place for male victims. The Barnardo’s team targets boys and young men with services to prevent and disrupt sexual exploitation.[25] Children’s social care also now has a specialist worker within the multi-agency team: Ofsted commented in 2020 that there was “targeted direct work completed with boys and a number of male workers recruited specifically to complete this work”.[26]

48. One solution to the under-representation of male victims, which is being adopted in Bristol, has been for BASE (a specialist service that supports young adults aged 18 to 25 who are at risk of being sexually exploited or where there are known concerns around sexual exploitation) to lower the threshold for entry into sexual exploitation support services when boys and young men are referred. As a result, Barnardo’s in Bristol has a higher proportion of boys and young men receiving its child sexual exploitation services than across its services in other areas.[27]

49. Overall, more needs to be done to identify and support boys and young men who are the victims of sexual exploitation. Once boys and young men do come forward, they also need more targeted and appropriate support than is typically provided. Targeted work to support boys must not be at the expense of other groups, including girls.


Back to top