Being loved, or being used?

Think about all your different relationships.

They could be with close friends, a boyfriend or girlfriend – and maybe groups of friends from school or the area you live in.

As we grow up, we develop relationships with lots of different people. It’s how we learn what we enjoy about a relationship and what we don’t.

But things can go wrong along the way and people might try to use you or force you to do something you don’t want to do.

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.

It happens to boys and girls and can be really hard to spot. Often people think they’re in a good relationship, even after things have turned bad.

But there are warning signs. It’s really important that you know how to spot them so you can protect yourself and your friends.

The story of Jay

How a girl was used by the man she thought she loved.

Met someone new? 5 signs they are not all they seem

It can be hard to spot when someone is using you. Here are some possible signs:

  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 by giving you lots of attention, ask yourself – what do they really want?

  2. They give you gifts, like phone credit, alcohol, drugs or jewellery.

    This can be exciting and make you feel good about someone but if they want sex 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. They might tell you that your friends or family won’t understand or you’ll be in trouble. Remember, the people who care about you will want to protect you.

  4. They have mood swings.

    If someone flips between being ‘very nice’ and ‘very nasty’, 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 control you with promises and 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.

Safer relationships

It's really important you feel safe in any relationship you're in.

  • 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, try to find a way out of the situation and seek help from someone you trust.

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

    If someone really cares about you they won’t put any pressure on you. If you don’t feel you can say no, ask yourself, are you really in a safe situation?

  • 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.

Are you worried you’re being exploited?

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


Childline is a free, confidential helpline. If you need someone to talk to at anytime call them on 0800 1111 to speak to a counsellor or visit


Barnardo’s is a children’s charity who run lots of services for young people who are being sexually exploited. To find one near you visit:

Local services

There are lots of organisations in the UK who support young people who are being sexually exploited. You can find one near you through the National Sexual Exploitation Working Group services directory:

Click on the region of the map where you live for a list of people who can help.


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 webcam
  • 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