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Lesson 3: Knowing how to recognise abuse

Lesson 3: Knowing how to recognise abuse

Abuse can happen any place, any time, to anyone. It can happen in person, but also online, or in any virtual environment (such as social media or gaming apps).   

An abuser can be anyone, but they’re often an adult or another young person that the victim already knows.  

Remember, it takes a lot for a young person to talk about their experience of harm. They might not recognise that what they’re going through is abuse, so it’s really important that they’re always listened to and always taken seriously.

Types of abuse

These are the main types of child abuse:

  • Hitting with hands or objects
  • Pushing
  • Kicking
  • Burning and scalding
  • Biting and scratching
  • Poisoning
  • Inflicting illness on someone
  • Making a child feel as though they’re worthless or inadequate
  • Making a child feel frightened or in danger
  • Letting a child witness someone else being badly treated
  • Not having enough food or warm clothes
  • Not being cared for or looked after

Sexual abuse could involve contact or no contact.

Examples include:

  • Sexual touching or rape
  • Making a child undress or touch someone else
  • Forcing a child to take part in sexual activities
  • Exposing a child to sexual acts or pornography
  • Any activity that involves indecent images of children

Be aware: both adults and young people alike can commit sexual abuse

Young people can abuse or harm other young people, something that’s often referred to as peer on peer abuse or harmful behaviour. We must understand that bullying is always harmful and should always be challenged. If it continues, report it.

These are some of the issues young people face today.  By being able to recognise these and reporting your concerns, you can help to keep young people safe.

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) 

Child sexual exploitation is a type of sexual abuse. When a child or young person is exploited they're given things, like gifts, drugs, money, status and affection, in exchange for performing sexual activities. Children and young people are often tricked into believing they're in a loving and consensual relationship. They may trust their abuser and not understand that they're being abused. 

Children and young people can be trafficked into or within the UK to be sexually exploited. They're moved around the country and abused by being forced to take part in sexual activities, often with more than one person. Young people in gangs can also be sexually exploited. 

Sometimes abusers use violence and intimidation to frighten or force a child or young person, making them feel as if they've no choice. They may lend them large sums of money they know can't be repaid or use financial abuse to control them. 

Anybody can be a perpetrator of CSE, no matter their age, gender or race. The relationship could be framed as friendship, someone to look up to or romantic. Children and young people who are exploited may also be used to 'find' or coerce others to join groups. 

Criminal Exploitation (gangs) 

Criminal Exploitation is child abuse where children and young people are manipulated and coerced into committing crimes. 

The word ‘gang’ means different things in different contexts, the government in their paper ‘Safeguarding children and young people who may be affected by gang activity’ distinguishes between peer groups, street gangs and organised criminal gangs. 

Peer group 

A relatively small and transient social grouping which may or may not describe themselves as a gang depending on the context. 

Street gang 

Groups of young people who see themselves (and are seen by others) as a discernible group for whom crime and violence is integral to the group's identity. 

Organised criminal gangs 

A group of individuals for whom involvement in crime is for personal gain (financial or otherwise). For most crime is their 'occupation’. 

It's not illegal for a young person to be in a gang – there are different types of ‘gang’ and not every ‘gang’ is criminal or dangerous. However, gang membership can be linked to illegal activity, particularly organised criminal gangs involved in trafficking, drug dealing and violent crime. 

What is County Lines? 

County Lines is the police term for urban gangs exploiting young people into moving drugs from a hub, normally a large city, into other markets - suburban areas and market and coastal towns - using dedicated mobile phone lines or “deal lines”. Children as young as 12 years old have been exploited into carrying drugs for gangs. This can involve children being trafficked away from their home area, staying in accommodation and selling and manufacturing drugs.  

This can include: 

  • Airbnb and short term private rental properties
  • budget hotels
  • the home of a drug user, or other vulnerable person, that is taken over by a criminal gang - this may be referred to as cuckooing. 

Modern slavery and human trafficking 

Trafficking is where children and young people tricked, forced or persuaded to leave their homes and are moved or transported and then exploited, forced to work or sold. Child trafficking is a form of modern slavery. Children are trafficked for: 

  • sexual exploitation
  • benefit fraud
  • forced marriage
  • domestic slavery like cleaning, cooking and childcare
  • forced labour in factories or agriculture
  • committing crimes, like begging, theft, working on cannabis farms or moving drugs
  • illegal adoption 

Trafficked children experience many types of abuse and neglect. Traffickers use physical, sexual and emotional abuse as a form of control. Children and young people are also likely to be physically and emotionally neglected and may be sexually exploited. 


It can be hard to know when extreme views become something dangerous and the signs of radicalisation aren't always obvious. Radicalisation can be really difficult to spot. Signs that may indicate a child is being radicalised include: 

  • isolating themselves from family and friends
  • talking as if from a scripted speech
  • unwillingness or inability to discuss their views
  • a sudden disrespectful attitude towards others
  • increased levels of anger
  • increased secretiveness, especially around internet use. 

Children who are at risk of radicalisation may have low self-esteem, or be victims of bullying or discrimination. Extremists might target them and tell them they can be part of something special, later brainwashing them into cutting themselves off from their friends and family. 

However, these signs don't necessarily mean a child is being radicalised – it may be normal teenage behaviour or a sign that something else is wrong. 

Further information: You can get further information on radicalisation from ACT Early and training available through the government PREVENT e-learning training package. Don't forget that any concern for a Scouts member relating to radicalisation must be reported to the Safeguarding Team. 

Honour based abuse 

Honour based abuse is a collection of practices used to control behaviour within families in order to protect perceived cultural and religious beliefs and/or honour.  

Violence can occur when perpetrators perceive that a relative has shamed the family and/or community by breaking their honour code.  

Honour based abuse cuts across all cultures, nationalities, faith groups and communities, usually where a culture is heavily male dominated. Relatives, including females, may conspire, aid, abet or participate in honour based abuse, for what might seem a trivial transgression. 

Forced marriage 

A forced marriage is where one or both people do not consent to marriage. They are pressurised or abused to force marriage. It's recognised in the UK as a form of domestic or child abuse; a serious abuse of human rights. 

The pressure put on people to marry against their will may be: 

  • physical: for example, threats, physical violence or sexual violence; and
  • emotional and psychological: for example, making someone feel like they are bringing 'shame' on their family. 

Female genital mutilation (FGM) 

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is when a female's genitals are deliberately altered or removed for non-medical reasons. It's also known as 'female circumcision' or 'cutting', but has many other names. 

FGM is a form of child abuse. It's dangerous and a criminal offence in the UK. We know: 

  • there are no medical reasons to carry out FGM
  • it's often performed by someone with no medical training, using instruments such as knives, scalpels, scissors, glass or razor blades
  • children are rarely given anaesthetic or antiseptic treatment and are often forcibly restrained
  • it's used to control female sexuality and can cause long-lasting damage to physical and emotional health. 

FGM can happen at different times in a girl or woman's life, including: 

  • when a baby is new-born
  • during childhood or as a teenager
  • just before marriage
  • during pregnancy. 

The Safeguarding Policy gives more detail about these types of abuse. 

Some common signs of concern are: 

  • Unexplained changes in behaviour or personality
  • Becoming withdrawn
  • Seeming anxious
  • Becoming uncharacteristically aggressive
  • A lack of social skills and few friends, if any
  • A poor bond or relationship with a parent
  • A knowledge of adult issues inappropriate for their age
  • Running away or going missing
  • Always choosing to wear clothes which cover the body 

These signs aren’t exhaustive – they don’t always mean that a child is experiencing abuse. 


Grooming can be involved in most types of abuse of a young person by an adult, who will often try befriending a young person in order to cause them harm. Following the Yellow Card helps stop opportunities for grooming.

As society changes other types of harm have been recognised for young people. We don’t expect you to be experts in them all but if you have concerns about a young person, contact the Safeguarding Team for advice.

Mental Wellbeing

Mental wellbeing is not, in itself, a safeguarding issue, but some young people (and adult volunteers) may struggle with their mental health. If you’re worried about anyone’s mental health within the movement, support is available from your line manager or the Safeguarding Team.

We recognise that some young people might have additional or complex needs, for instance, limited communication skills. In certain circumstances, those in need of extra care can be particularly vulnerable to abuse.

Download the PDF

The Safeguarding workbook is available download and print.

Download the Safeguarding workbook