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
- Sexual exploitation affects both girls and boys and can happen in all communities
- Any person can be targeted but there are some particularly vulnerable groups: Looked After Children, Children Leaving Care and Children with Disabilities
- Victims of CSE may also be trafficked (locally, nationally and internationally)
- Over 70% of adults involved in prostitution were sexually exploited as children or teenagers
- Sexual violence or abuse against children represents a major public health and social welfare problem within UK society, affecting 16% of children under 16. That is approximately 2 million children
Good practice - Individuals
- Recognise the symptoms and distinguish them from other forms of abuse
- Treat the child/young person as a victim of abuse
- Understand the perspective / behaviour of the child/young person and be patient with them
- Help the child/young person to recognise that they are being exploited
- Collate as much information as possible
- Share information with other agencies and seek advice / refer to Social Care
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:
- inappropriate sexual or sexualised behaviour
- repeat sexually transmitted infections; in girls repeat pregnancy, abortions, miscarriage
- having unaffordable new things (clothes, mobile) or expensive habits (alcohol, drugs)
- going to hotels or other unusual locations to meet friends
- getting in/out of different cars driven by unknown adults
- going missing from home or care
- having older boyfriends or girlfriends
- associating with other young people involved in sexual exploitation
- truancy, exclusion, disengagement with school, opting out of education altogether
- unexplained changes in behaviour or personality (chaotic, aggressive, sexual)
- drug or alcohol misuse
- getting involved in crime
- injuries from physical assault, physical restraint, sexual assault (Barnardo’s, 2011; CEOP, 2011; Berelowitz et al, 2012)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
In an emergency always call 999.
- The London Child Exploitation Operating Protocol
- Contextual Safeguarding Network
- Say Something - National CSE reporting and support line
- Chelsea’s Choice - a short film about CSE awareness raising for young people
- Say Something CSE - a short film by Safer London/Hackney
- Spotting the signs of child sexual exploitation - a short film by Health Education England
- Consent and Tea - a short film about consent for young people
- Victim Blaming Language and CSE - a short film by Safer London/Waltham Forest
- Exploited trailer - a promotional trailer for CEOP’s new educational resource aimed at preventing CSE