Being loved, or being used?

Power, abuse and control in relationships

As we get older we form all different kinds of relationships: close friends, school mates, friends in our area and even boyfriends and girlfriends. It’s one of the ways that we learn more about ourselves, what we like about relationships and what we don’t.

Relationships aren’t always easy and they can be difficult to understand. In any relationship it’s really important that you feel safe, loved, respected and free to be yourself.

You should never feel scared, controlled or forced in to doing things that you don’t want to do.

Abusive relationships

Some people form relationships with others, including young people, to take advantage of them or to abuse them.

Abuse in relationships can take many different forms, and can be online or offline. It is mainly when someone tries to control, intimidate or hurt the other person in the relationship.

Abuse in a relationship can be:

  • Emotional – Putting the other person down or making them feel stupid
  • Physical – hitting, kicking or slapping someone
  • Sexual – forcing someone to do anything sexual that they don’t want to do

Whatever form the abuse takes it is NEVER okay.

Abusive behaviour in a relationship can be really harmful by destroying a person’s self-confidence, leaving them feeling isolated and lonely, and putting their health at risk.

Sexual exploitation

Some people form relationships with young people to use them for sex.

People who do this want young people to think they are a friend, or a boyfriend or girlfriend. They want to gain their trust to get power over them. They might also use bribes, threats, humiliation and even violence to get power over them.

They use that power to force them to have sex, or do sexual things, with them and sometimes with other people.

This is sexual exploitation and it’s a crime.

Sexual exploitation is very harmful to young people with the potential to affect every part of their health, happiness and development.

Who does this happen to?

Sexual exploitation or abuse in a relationship can happen to boys and girls.

It can be really hard to spot abusive behaviour and sexual exploitation as people often think that they’re in a good relationship, even after things have turned bad.

If you are a victim of abuse in a relationship or sexual exploitation it is NEVER your fault.

5 warning signs to look out for…

It can be really hard to spot when someone is abusing or exploiting a relationship. Some possible signs that they’re not all they seem:

  1. To get to know you they give you lots of attention.

    We all like attention and it’s nice to feel wanted. But if someone tries to get to know you by giving you lots of attention, ask yourself – what do they really want?

  2. They give you in-game gifts or send you money online. Or they give you gifts like alcohol or jewlery offline.

    This can be exciting and make you feel good about someone but, if they want sex or anything else from you in return, they are trying to exploit you.

  3. They try to isolate you from your friends or family.

    They will say that they are the only person you need and tell you that your friends or family won’t understand or you’ll be in trouble. They might try to control who you can and card be friends with, or talk to online. Remember, the people who care about you will want to protect you.

  4. They have mood swings.

    If someone flips between sending you ‘very nice’ and ‘very nasty’ messages, you can feel like you need to do things to keep them happy. This can be a sign they are trying to control you.

  5. They make promises or threats.

    Abusers use many tricks to control young people. They may make promises they can’t keep, ask them to keep secrets or threaten them. Some become violent. Online 'friends' might threaten to share any photos or videos that you've shared with them.

How can I stay safe?

  • Trust yourself to know when something is wrong.

    If someone makes you feel unsafe, pressured or frightened, follow your instincts and get help.

  • Consider whether you can trust people you don’t know.

    Even if they seem friendly, exciting or offer you gifts. Ask yourself - why are they being nice and doing me favours? What do they want in return?

  • You don’t have to do things that you think are unsafe.

    If you feel nervous about doing something seek help from someone you trust.

  • You should never be put under pressure to have sex.

    You should never feel you have to have sex.

  • Know where to get help. Keep contact details of an adult you trust with you, written down and on your phone. Keep your phone topped up with credit. Remember you can always get help from CEOP.

Are you worried that this might be happening to you?

Talk to someone

If you are worried about a situation that you, or a friend, is in you should talk to an adult you trust as soon as you can. People who can help include parents, teachers, police officers social workers and youth workers.

It can be really difficult to talk about this sort of thing. We have some advice about how to start talking about difficult issues with someone that you trust. If it still seems too difficult there are many agencies that can offer you confidential support.

Get professional help

There are lots of organisations offering confidential advice.

Disrespect Nobody

Information, advice and help for abuse in teen relationships. The website contains a directory of confidential support services for victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, including those specifically for men and LGBT groups.

Disrespect Nobody: directory


The UK’s free, confidential helpline for young people of all ages who are upset or in danger. Counsellors provide support over the phone and online 24 hours a day. or call 0800 1111


Free, confidential sexual health information and support services for young people under 25. 

Report it


CEOP helps young people who are being sexually abused or are worried that someone they’ve met is trying to abuse them.

If you’ve met someone online, or face to face, and they are putting you under pressure to have sex or making you feel uncomfortable you should report to CEOP.

This might be someone:

  • Making you have sex when you donʼt want to
  • Chatting about sex online
  • Asking you to meet up face to face if youʼve only met them online
  • Asking you to do sexual things on camera
  • Asking for sexual pictures of you
  • Making you feel worried, anxious or unsafe

If this is happening to you, or you’re worried that it might be, you can report this to CEOP