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 disability or 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.
People with several or more of these experiences are at greatest risk of being exploited, although it is worth remembering that anyone you encounter could be experiencing exploitation.
Other important points
Experiences such as those listed above increase the level of risk people are exposed to in their daily lives.
The thought processes and behaviours which people develop 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.
Vulnerability is influenced by social factors as well as those in the home.
Peer influences and information technology (especially social media) are particular concerns, forming channels through which individuals can be introduced to exploitation.
Victims of exploitation are growing more diverse, with previously ‘low risk’ people increasingly being exploited.