Victims and perpetrators

In this section

  • Overview
  • Examples of exploitative situations
  • Being a victim
  • Overview

    Exploitation, like other forms of abuse, involves a victim and perpetrator. These terms can be confusing because victims of exploitation can be coerced and controlled.

    • people who are exploited may be forced to take part in crime or become involved in grooming and exploiting other people
    • their actions may not seem like those of a victim and they may appear to have freely or wilfully carried out these actions.

    It’s important to remember that anyone is a victim if they are involved in a situation which limits their freedom and ability to make decisions about their own actions. Exploitation involves control and coercion which may not be immediately visible.

    • Examples of exploitative situations

      When someone is exploited they may be forced to take part in activities that may make it harder to recognise that they are a victim

      • someone indebted to a drugs gang could be forced to transport illegal drugs to another town where they can be sold
      • someone who has been sexually exploited may be told by their abusers to find more people who they can have sex with, and to befriend them with free drugs and alcohol
      • someone who has received telephone calls from a scam company about a lottery draw may keep transferring money to the company, and appears happy to do so because they believe they will win a big prize
      • someone whose wages have been taken by their employer may steal from a shop as they cannot afford to buy food.
    • Being a victim

      People who are being exploited may not recognise that they are victims

      • they may have normalised their experiences of exploitation, especially if it’s taken place over a long time
      • they may feel dependent on their abuser or the exploitative situation, or feel affection towards their abuser – this is often a consequence of being groomed
      • they may feel that they’ve willingly taken part in a situation or activity – for example they may have gained something from the situation and do not recognise that they have been exploited in return
      • they may be reluctant to engage with you, recognise that they are being harmed, or understand the importance of trying to leave – this can be due to the coercive and traumatic nature of the exploitation they have experienced.

      Assumptions about people who are in an exploitative situation can include

      • assuming someone has deliberately put themselves at risk and is to blame for their involvement in a situation that has caused them harm
      • assuming someone has become involved in an exploitative situation because of ‘lifestyle reasons’ and out of choice
      • being unwilling to believe that someone has been exploited, even if they disclose information that suggests this
      • assuming that continued communication with someone who’s causing harm is evidence that the person is not being harmed or coerced and is acting freely
      • assuming someone is streetwise and capable of looking after themselves
      • assuming someone is being difficult and does not want to receive support.

      These views can lead people to overlook someone’s welfare, care and support needs, downplay the risk of further harm. and avoid acting on information that indicates someone is being harmed.

      It’s important always act on any signs of vulnerability and concern and remember that the control and coercion someone is experiencing may not be visible – and they may not be able to disclose this to you.