Someone is vulnerable if, as a result of their situation or circumstances, they are unable to protect themselves or others from harm or exploitation (College of Policing).
The nature and extent of someone’s vulnerability changes over time, in response to their personal circumstances.
Each case of exploitation arises from a unique set of circumstances. However, certain life experiences are known to increase vulnerability to exploitation:
- being in care, or being a care leaver
- being involved with a gang
- experiencing communication difficulties (for example, due to having English as an additional language or having a sensory impairment)
- experiencing drug or alcohol misuse
- experiencing financial difficulties
- experiencing mental health difficulties
- experiencing past trauma or adversity, including experiences of neglect or abuse
- experiencing peer pressure
- experiencing times of transition and change
- feeling socially isolated
- going missing
- having a learning difficulty
- having an autism spectrum condition
- having caring responsibilities
- having an illness, health condition or disability
- homelessness and living in insecure housing
- involvement in the criminal justice system
- living in an unsafe or unstable home environment.
Experiences such as those listed above can increase people’s vulnerability in a number of ways:
- they increase the level of risk people are exposed to in their daily lives
- the thought processes and behaviours developed to cope with difficult experiences can create or intensify their vulnerability (for example, using drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism)
- exposure to challenging experiences may lead people to view exploitation as a normal, expected or unavoidable part of life.
Victims of exploitation are also growing more diverse, with people viewed as ‘low risk’ being groomed and exploited. Often these people will have been exposed to risk outside of the home, for example through their friendships and relationships with others. Peer influences and information technology (especially social media) are increasingly been identified as pathways into exploitation.