Child Sexual Exploitation

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is illegal activity by people who have some form of power and control over young people and use it to sexually abuse them.

Sexual abuse of children involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact or non-penetrative acts and may also include non-contact activities, e.g. involving children in looking at, or in production of abusive images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways etc. It may also involve grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet).

Sexual exploitation can happen to any young person from any background and it affects boys and young men as well as girls and young women. Whilst perpetrators are mostly male, females can also be involved in this abusive activity.

Some young people may be more vulnerable to exploitation than others. For example those that are having difficulties at home; are truanting or have been excluded from school; regularly go missing from home or care or those who are living in care (looked after children).

Many victims of child sexual exploitation have been groomed by an abusing adult or sometimes by an older young person. Grooming is when the abuser befriends a young person and makes them feel special by buying gifts for them or giving them lots of attention. Victims can be targeted in person or online and perpetrators are increasingly using the internet to protect their identity and trafficking abused children around the country to avoid detection.

Children and young people who are victims of this form of sexual abuse often do not recognise they are being exploited. However, there are a number of signs that can indicate a child is being groomed for sexual exploitation:

  • Going missing or regularly returning home late
  • Regularly missing school or not taking part in education
  • Having unexplained gifts or new possessions that they could not have purchased themselves - including things like a mobile phone, cigarettes, alcohol, jewellery and clothes 
  • Mixing with other young people involved in exploitation
  • Having older boyfriends and girlfriends
  • Appearing to have a completely new friendship group and no longer mixing with previous friendship groups
  • Contracting sexually transmitted infections
  • Mood swings or changes in emotional wellbeing
  • Drug and alcohol misuse
  • Displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviour or displaying sexual knowledge or behaviour that is inappropriate for their age.

Parents and carers should be alert to the dangers that children and young people face in respect of CSE and should be proactive in discussing risks with their children. Parents and carers can help reduce the risks their children face by discussing the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships with them and making them aware that CSE is a real issue in our communities.

Parents and carers can take some practical steps, such as:

  • Being alert to changes in behaviour or any physical signs of abuse, e.g. bruising
  • Be aware of new, unexplained gifts or possessions (see examples above)
  • Carefully monitor any instances of staying out late or not returning home and ask where they have been and who they have been with
  • Be cautious about any older friends your child may have, or relationships with other young people where there appears to be a power imbalance
  • Understand the risks associated with your child being online and put measures in place at home to minimise them i.e. parental controls on the PC

STOPCSE - 18 March 2017

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is a form of sexual abuse that involves the manipulation and/or coercion of young people under the age of 18 years into sexual activity.

The National Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Raising Day aims to highlight the issues surrounding Child Sexual Exploitation; encouraging everyone to think, spot and speak out against abuse and adopt a zero tolerance to adults developing inappropriate relationships with children and children forming inappropriate sexual relationships with their peers NWG are committed to the fight against Child Sexual Exploitation and supporting victims and their families who are subjected to child sexual exploitation but they cannot succeed without the support of people like you.

Everyone has a role to play in raising awareness of Child Sexual Exploitation. Safeguarding children is everybody’s business. Any child can be sexually exploited no matter what culture, ethnicity, religion, whether a boy or a girl from any background.Together, we can work to inform, educate and prevent this form of child sexual abuse within the UK.

Get updates from the nwg network and join in the conversation.

I Didn't Know campaign

The I Didn't know campaign is a county-wide initiative to raise awareness of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE).

Essex Southend and Thurrock Safeguarding Children Boards in partnership with Essex Police launched the I Didn’t Know campaign with an aim to break down some of the myths around CSE and encourage members of the public to report any concerns they may have.

I didn't know my boyfriend wanted me to have sex with his friends

Being exploited for sex can happen to any child from any community

There are three important and recognisable elements of child sexual exploitation:

  • Children are ‘groomed’ and there is power and control held by the perpetrator/s
  • An ‘exchange’ (such as gift, food, money, drugs etc.) is present, this could be to a third party and not always to the child themselves.
  • Sexual acts or the exchange of sexual images is present.

​​I didn't know that boys could be victims too..

Community and local businesses

We all have a responsibility to protect children from child sexual exploitation, including local businesses.

Abuse can happen anywhere, so it’s important to always be vigilant. But there are some locations that are known to be locations young people have been groomed, including: Taxi ranks, shopping centres, arcades, cafés, take-away food outlets, alcohol outlets (including small shops), pubs/clubs/hotels, public parks, car parks, budget hotels.

If your business operates under a licence, your licence is at risk if you do not take action to protect children. The law states that premises licence holders and supervisors have to make sure that children are protected from physical, psychological and moral harm at their premises.

Premises allowing in under-18s also need to have systems in place to safeguard children and young people. You must prove that you have used ‘due diligence’ to manage the risk of exploitation in your venue.

You can support this campaign by:

  • Talking to others and letting them about the I didn't know website.
  • Printing off resources from the I didn't know website and displaying them in public areas / training events etc.
  • Showing the I didn't know website during training or raising awareness events.
  • Speaking to parents/carers, families, children and young people, and supporting them to understand where they can get help.
  • Share via social media. #KnowAboutCSE

I didn't know website campaign and signs of CSE

Help and support

For more information about CSE or if you are concerned about a child or young person you can contact:

If you think a child or young person is at immediate risk you should call 999.

If you are a child or young person and would like to speak to someone in confidence you can contact ChildLine on 0800 1111