In this section:

  • Overview
  • Common forms of exploitation
  • What exploitation looks like
  • What to look for in your local area


Exploitation is a form of abuse in which someone is forced or coerced into doing things for the benefit of others.

Exploitation is often a gradual process. People are groomed and introduced to new ideas, behaviours and activities, making these appear normal and acceptable. These ideas and activities may seem exciting or give someone something they are looking for (such as money, or a sense of belonging). Because of this, people will often 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:

Lists the many forms that exploitation can take and involve - grooming; hate crime; abuse; debt; drugs; sexual exploitation; county lines; violence; forced labour; radicalisation; criminal exploitation; trafficking; control; coercion; mate crime; financial; slavery; coercion; fraud; and scams. It can also take place in the home; gangs; the workplace; online; and through friends and family.

  • Common forms of exploitation

    Important points:

    • People can experience many forms of exploitation at once – for example someone who is forced to work in a business for lower than the legal minimum wage (modern slavery) may be transported across the country to different locations where they can be exploited (human trafficking). They may be sexually exploited by their enslavers and their money may have been stolen from them (financial exploitation).
    • County lines, financial exploitation, radicalisation, sexual exploitation and modern slavery are major concerns in Devon.

    Common forms of exploitation include:

    Criminal exploitation – being forced to take part in criminal activities such as transporting or selling illegal items (such as drugs), participating in violent or acquisitive crime, or grooming and exploiting other people.

    Debt bondage – is a part of many forms of exploitation. People may accumulate ‘debts’ during exploitation, such as payments owed for transport and accommodation, or ‘free’ drugs and money offered during the grooming process. People may be forced to carry out work, favours or criminal activities to pay off their debts may be threatened with violence if they do not – increasing the extent that they are exploited.

    Drug trafficking – being forced to transport drugs to areas where they can be sold and distributed. This can involve county lines activities (where drug gangs transport drugs to towns and cities along ‘deal lines’). Drug trafficking can be a form of modern slavery and human trafficking if people are forced to travel in order to sell and distribute drugs.

    Financial exploitation –  being deceived or coerced into handing over monetary funds or assets to others. This can happen through scams, fraud, blackmail, or through developing debts.

    Labour exploitation – being forced to work for little or no pay, often in poor conditions. People experiencing labour exploitation may have limited freedom and may be forced to live with other workers. Labour exploitation is a form of modern slavery.

    Modern slavery – having control or ownership over another person and using this power to exploit them. Modern slavery can include human trafficking, enslavement, domestic servitude and forced labour. 

    Radicalisation – the process through which people come to support increasingly extreme political, religious or other ideals. This can lead them to support violent extremism and terrorism.

    Sexual exploitation – a form of sexual abuse where people are encouraged, manipulated or forced to participate in sexual acts. They may be threatened with violence and may be groomed by offers of affection, money or gifts.

  • What does exploitation look like?

    Exploitation can always:

    • affect any child, young person or adult, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender identity or sexuality
    • be perpetrated by individuals or groups – perpetrators usually hold power over the victim, for example because of their age, gender, status or wealth
    • involve force, control, coercion and intimidation, often accompanied by violence or the threat of violence
    • involve grooming
    • 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
    • make people more vulnerable to other forms of exploitation

    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 – the person’s vulnerability and the situation’s exploitative nature can take away their freedom and capacity to make their own decisions.

    They may feel trapped and unable to escape their situation or tell others what is going on. People involved in exploitative stations must always be considered victims and offered appropriate support.

  • What to look for in your local area

    Exploitation can look different depending on the local area. There may be differences in the demographics of vulnerable groups, and in the places in which exploitation can easily take place. It can be useful to consider:

    • which groups of people are most vulnerable to exploitation?
    • where are they likely to live, work and socialise?
    • how might they be targeted by people seeking to exploit them?
    • are there any potential exploitation ‘hotspots’? – including places with limited surveillance or a transient population (for example holiday housing, isolated public spaces, train stations or bus stops)
    • considering the above, what signs of exploitation might you come across?
    • and how might these vary between different population groups and locations?

    Devon is a predominantly rural county with a small number of large urban areas, most of which are connected to major transport networks. Large numbers of tourists visit the county, mainly in the spring and summer. The population includes high numbers of older and elderly people. Employment is mixed, with tourism and agriculture significant. All of this affects how exploitation can take place locally:

    • Locations near to major roads and railways may be targets for trafficking – including drugs, money and human trafficking.
    • Bus networks may allow drugs and money to be trafficked into rural areas.
    • Isolation within rural areas can allow exploitation to go unnoticed and can make people more vulnerable to grooming through being befriended or offered opportunities (such as money or work) which may not otherwise be available.
    • Agricultural industries are at greater risk of forced labour and other forms of modern slavery.
    • Tourist hotspots and other places with a high population turnover may be targeted by exploiters as it is easier for them to go unnoticed. Hotels and holiday lets may be hired to house people who are being trafficked into the local area, or for carrying out sexual exploitation or drug dealing.
    • The county’s elderly population is at greater risk of financial exploitation, such as through fraud and scams.
    • Seasonal employment can lead people to seek other forms of income – this can make them targets for exploiters.

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