Tackling Child Criminal Exploitation

EMPAC is pleased to report here on research that is developing systemic investigation, protection and prosecution strategies (SIPPS) for child criminal exploitation.  This vital work is being linked into the East Midlands Police and Crime Research and Development Plan (EMPCRD) https://empac.org.uk/east-midlands-police-crime-research-development/ to help share the insights and improve professional practice. As with all EMPAC work, the idea is to use a ‘global to local’ approach, taking the best ideas from wherever we can and seek to inform and innovate policing practice and policy in the East Midlands and beyond. Within the EMPCRD plan, Detective Inspector Harry Dick is co-ordinator for Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery for the East Midlands (reporting to DCC Chris Haward)  and chairs a new Modern Slavery Police Research Network, which helps bring together work by the University of Nottingham, Leicester and De Montfort as well as the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority. Another new member of this forum, Craig Barlow of the University of Hull’s Wilbeforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation, has kindly shared insights into his ongoing research focussing on children. Please have a read!

 The Systemic Investigation, Protection and Prosecution Strategy (SIPPS) was developed by the author and colleagues as a prototype of a methodology for use within the criminal justice system in responding to Modern Slavery and Trafficking of Human Beings. As a prosecution strategy a number of convictions of Organised Crime Groups (OCGs) and individuals were achieved. The principles were developed for practical use by social workers responding to risk of child sexual exploitation (CSE) in one South London Borough and have been described in detail by the author (Barlow, 2017). The exploitation of children for criminal activity remains under researched but is a domain to which the SIPPS Model of assessment, intervention, prosecution and safeguarding appears to be well suited (Barlow, 2017). This research is currently underway at The University of Hull and the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE).

What is Child Criminal Exploitation?

Criminal exploitation in the UK involves children and vulnerable adults that have been coerced into crimes such as ATM theft, pick-pocketing, bag snatching, counterfeit DVD Selling, cannabis cultivation, metal theft, benefit fraud, sham marriages, as well as being forced to beg. The most common types of criminal exploitation are cannabis cultivation and petty street crime (Anti Slavery International, 2014). The involvement of children in the movement and sale of drugs in the context of “County Lines” has also been receiving increasing professional and media attention.

Particular Difficulties Faced by First Responders

It is often difficult to identify child victims of trafficking and criminal exploitation (SOC Strategic Analysis Team, 2014). Cases of criminal exploitation or forced begging are frequently incorrectly perceived as public order issues or petty crime in which the child is the perceived offender (SOC Strategic Analysis Team, 2014). Among children trafficked into the UK there is often a lack of identification papers relating to age. ECPAT UK suggest that many child victims are treated as adults when arrested as they have no documentation to prove identity or age and so receive inadequate protection appropriate to children.

Children are at high risk of secondary victimisation by being considered perpetrators of petty crime rather than being identified as victims of exploitation. It is also conceivable that a child under the age of criminal responsibility will not be processed as an offender nor assessed as a victim and then is vulnerable to further exploitation upon release from the authorities (Love, 2017).

There is a striking discrepancy between Police figures for criminal exploitation and those of local authorities: it is generally accepted that children going missing from care is a major problem and increases vulnerability to predatory criminals. Anti-Slavery suggest that a significant number of the children that go missing from care have been trafficked for criminal exploitation, particularly Vietnamese children. Of the 90% of Looked After Children[1] that go missing from care, 60% are suspected victims of trafficking. RACE in Europe found that there were “worryingly few potential child victims of trafficking in local authority care” (Brotherton & Waters, n.d.).

The NSPCC Child Trafficking Advice Centre received 715 referrals between 19/04/2012  and 13/09/2017. 161 had been reported missing at some time. Of those that went missing, 58% had been exploited for criminal activities (street crime) and cannabis cultivation (however these figures did not distinguish between exploitation that occurred before the child entered care or during the missing incident).

Aim of the Current Research and Development of the SIPPS

Feedback from professionals and academics has identified ways in which the SIPPS Model may be applied to a variety of exploitative contexts and crimes including modern slavery offences, domestic abuse and radicalisation. This research is currently focusing on Child Criminal Exploitation with a view to application to other contexts. There is a lack of guidance, training and support for police investigators, child safeguarding social workers and other first responders to assist them in identifying exploitation, understanding the nature and dynamics of the abuse (Haughey, 2016). (Setter & Baker, 2018). This further impedes the collaborative development of systemic, integrated and proportionate interventions to prevent trafficking and exploitation, protect those that are vulnerable to or escaping from exploitation and to prosecute those that are responsible for the exploitation. A theoretical model is required that reflects the real-world experiences of investigators, the victims and perpetrators of exploitation and the contexts in which they all exist. The current research provides this as it describes and explains the complexity of relationships and processes of criminal exploitation of children. The research will be completed by the summer of 2019 and will:

  • Describe the nature and extent of forced criminal exploitation occurring in England and Wales at present.
  • Address the particular problems that need to be overcome in order to identify the presence of forced criminal exploitation of children.
  • Investigate the underlying knowledge or assumptions that inform current responses by statutory and non-governmental organisations to forced criminal exploitation of children.
  • Conceptualise the problem of forced criminal exploitation of children relationally: a way to interpret the activities and processes of criminal exploitation of children in terms of the context of relationships between the child, the perpetrator and the environment.
  • Discuss the implications of this conceptual framework for the pursuit and prosecution of offenders, prevention and disruption of criminal exploitation of children and the safeguarding of children that are vulnerable to or victims of criminal exploitation.

It is anticipated that by explaining and describing the relational contexts to the criminal exploitation of children in England and Wales, it will be possible to extend and improve the range of responses to the problem and transfer the model and solutions to other jurisdictions and contexts.

You can contact Craig direct at : C.Barlow@2016.hull.ac.uk / cbarlow@craigbarlow.co.uk


Anti Slavery International, 2014. Trafficking for Forced Criminal Activities and Begging in Europe:Exploratory Study and Good Practice Examples, London: Anti-Slavery International.

Barlow, C., 2017. The Adapted SIPPS for CSE: Evaluation of a Pilot Project in a South London Borough. European Review of Organised Crime, 4(2), pp. 101 – 127.

Brotherton, V. & Waters, F., n.d. Victim or Criminal? Trafficking for Forced Criminal Exploitation: UK Chapter, s.l.: ECPAT.

Haughey, C., 2016. The Modern Slavery Act Review: One year on, London: The Home Office.

Love, A., 2017. Personal Contact [Interview] (24 March 2017).

Setter, C. & Baker, C., 2018. Child Trafficking in the UK in 2018: a Snapshot, s.l.: ECPAT UK.

SOC Strategic Analysis Team, 2014. Intelligence Notification 16 Child Trafficking for Exploitation in Forced Criminal Activities and Forced Begging, s.l.: NCIA.


[1] The Term Looked After Children or Looked After Child or  LAC  refers to children or a child that are in some form of statutory care e.g. residential care or foster care where the Local Authority has Parental responsibility or shared responsibility for the child concerned.


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