Child sexual exploitation

What is child sexual exploitation?

“Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.”

The manipulation or ‘grooming’ process involves befriending children and gaining their trust. Child sexual exploitation can occur through the use of technology without the child’s immediate awareness: for example, being persuaded to post sexual images on the Internet/mobile phones, without immediate payment gain.

In all cases, those exploiting a child or young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources. Violence, coercion and intimidation are common, involvement in exploitative relationships being characterised in the main by the child or young person’s limited availability of choice due to their social/economic and/or emotional vulnerability.

The link between children being sexually exploited and children going missing is very strong. Some 140,000 children go missing from home or care in the UK each year and it has been estimated that running away places around a quarter of these at risk of serious harm. Children and young people who run away may be ‘pushed away’ following abuse or other factors or ‘pulled away’ wanting to be near friends or because they are being exploited by adults.

Key facts about CSE

Good practice - Individuals

What are the signs and symptoms of child sexual exploitation?

Grooming and sexual exploitation can be very difficult to identify. Warning signs can easily be mistaken for ‘normal’ teenage behaviour and/or development. However, parents, carers, school teachers and practitioners are advised to be alert to the following signs and symptoms:

Visit NSPCC to find out more about signs of CSE.

If you are worried about a child or young person

Please refer them to the Children’s MASH (Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub) using the Children’s Portal.

You can call 020 8379 5555, Monday to Thursday from 9am to 5pm, Friday 9am to 4:45pm. Out of office hours on 020 8379 1000 (select option 2 and you will be transferred to an advisor). You can also email

In an emergency always call 999.


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