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Exploitation of adults

What is exploitation?

Exploitation is a form of abuse where someone is forced or coerced into doing things for the benefit of others, as follows:

  • Exploitation is often a gradual process
  • People are groomed and introduced to new ideas, behaviours and activities, making these appear normal and acceptable
  • These behaviours and activities may seem exciting or give someone something they are looking for – including money, gifts or a sense of belonging
  • People may not recognise that they are being exploited until their situation becomes very serious
  • Exploitation can take many forms, can take place in a range of situations, and can involve many groups of people
  • Exploitation is a hidden and complex crime which abuses the basic human rights and dignity of victims who are subject to it
  • Consider if there is a personal relationship or personally connected relationship in which case this may meet the definition of domestic abuse 

What does exploitation look like?

Exploitation may be taking place even if someone seems to be making their own choices or the activity they are taking part in appears consensual. 

Exploitation can:

  • affect any child, young person or adult, regardless of age, ethnicity, nationality, gender identity and sexuality
  • be carried out by individuals or groups 
  • involve force, control, coercion and intimidation
  • involve people being forced to take part in the exploitation of others
  • involve people being forced to take part in criminal activity
  • involve control and coercion – this could be psychological or physical.

Where can exploitation occur?

Exploitation can occur in any location but key potential settings have been identified as follows: 

  • Home – victims may be targeted within their own home – with it being taken over by criminals who use it for criminal purposes such as drugs or brothels or who may use it to benefit financially or materially by taking control of the victims money and household
  • Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO’s) may present a risk as there’s a high turn over of occupants and some properties may be of a low standard, which can increase vulnerability
  • Sexual Establishment venues – may be a sham or disguise for sexual exploitation or slavery with people being forced to work in them against their informed consent
  • Street – offenders may identify potential victims to target through their ongoing presence in public spaces such as town centres, licensed premises or parades of shops
  • Commercial sexual exploitation can take place through off and on-street transactions
  • Businesses – national examples demonstrate that slavery takes place in a variety of business locations – from factories & fields to beauty salons and builder’s yards
  • Online – victims may be targeted online by offenders who are seeking vulnerable people to exploit
  • Homelessness – not having access to suitable and stable safe accommodation provides an overarching setting in which people become vulnerable to exploiters.

Some different ways in which adults can be exploited

Sexual exploitation

Adult Sexual Exploitation is a form of sexual abuse that involves someone taking advantage of an adult, sexually, for their own benefit through threats, bribes, and violence.

Perpetrators usually hold power over their victims, due to age, gender, sexual identity, physical strength or status. Adults can be sexually exploited in many ways.

Examples include:

  • rape and sexual assault
  • being tricked or manipulated into having sex or performing a sexual act
  • being trafficked into, out of, or around the UK for the purpose of sexual exploitation
  • sex working (on or off street)
  • being forced to take part in or watch pornography
  • being victim to revenge porn (when a previously taken video or photograph, which was taken with or without consent, is shared online)

Modern slavery

Activities that involve one person keeping another person in compelled service (Home Office 2016). The Modern Slavery Act (2015) includes: forced labour, forced criminality, sexual exploitation, forced marriage and domestic servitude.

Someone is in slavery if they are:

  • forced to work through mental or physical threat
  • owned or controlled by an “employer”, usually through mental or physical abuse or the threat of abuse, often with perceptions of “debt bondage”
  • dehumanised, treated like a commodity or bought and sold as “property”
  • physically constrained or have restrictions placed on his/her freedom.

Labour exploitation

Servitude and forced/compulsory labour are forms of ‘modern slavery’. 

Forced labour

Work that is performed involuntarily and under the menace of any penalty. It refers to situations in which persons are coerced to work through the use of violence or intimidation, or by more subtle means such as manipulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities.

Domestic servitude

This involves children, men and women being forced to work in private households performing tasks such as childcare and housekeeping for little or no pay and often in abusive conditions.

Criminal exploitation

This refers to organised crime gangs and groups who operate in urban areas who supply drugs to suburbs, market and coastal towns; often crossing county borders. The gangs use dedicated mobile phone lines, sometimes known as “deal lines”. They use adults (and children) to move drugs and money.

Organised crime gangs create a base in their chosen target area, usually by taking over the homes of local adults who gang members have identified as vulnerable. They do this either by force or coercion (known as ‘cuckooing’).

Criminal exploitation is widespread, with gangs from big cities including London, Manchester and Liverpool operating throughout England, Wales and Scotland.

Material exploitation 

A form of crime in which exploiters take over the home of a vulnerable person, in order to use it as a base for a number of areas of criminality. This may also be referred to as ‘cuckooing’.

Human trafficking 

Human trafficking involves recruitment, harbouring or transporting people into a situation of exploitation through the use of violence, deception or coercion and forced to work against their will.

The Palermo Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, is the internationally accepted definition of human trafficking. This Protocol (which is in force) was signed by the United Kingdom on 14 December 2000 and ratified on 9 February 2006. It provides a definition of trafficking which has since become a widely accepted standard and used in other international instruments.

It also outlines protection for victims.

Organised forced criminality

Victims may be forced into criminal activities by gangs such as drug cultivation, organised begging or benefit fraud, for example, extra tax credits, housing benefit. 

Forced or sham marriages

A forced marriage is where one or both people do not, or cannot, consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used. A sham marriage is where the marriage or civil partnership is contracted for immigration advantage by a couple who are not in a genuine relationship. 

Predatory marriage 

Predatory Marriage is the practice of intentionally targeting and marrying a vulnerable (often older) person in order to gain access to their estate and assets upon their death. Predatory Marriage relies on grooming and coercion to exert control over another person to persuade them to marry for financial, material or other gain.

Fake friends aka mate crime

Mate Crime is defined as the exploitation, abuse or theft from any person at risk from those they consider to be their friends. Those that commit such abuse or theft are often referred to as ‘fake friends’.

People with disabilities, particularly those with learning disabilities, are often the targets of this type of crime. In some cases victims of mate crime have been badly harmed or even killed.

Reporting concerns  

Consider does this meet the criteria for a National Referral Mechanism (NRM) referral? To find out more, see the resources below.

Reporting suspected fraud