Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

Sexual exploitation is a form of abuse where young people are forced or manipulated into sexual activity. The abuser may groom the young person into trusting them – this can be done face-to-face or online. The abuser then exploits this trust for their own gain. Child sexual exploitation can take many forms and victims and criminals can be from any social or ethnic background.

Sometimes criminals may get the young person to engage in sexual activity by giving them attention, treats, alcohol, drugs or a place to stay; sometimes they may manipulate the young person into believing they are in a consensual relationship and that they love them. Either way, the young person is being taken advantage of through this controlling behaviour. It is child abuse and the victims face huge risks to their physical, emotional and psychological health.

Types of CSE

Criminals target young people in many different ways - here are some of the most common:

'He's my boyfriend...' Initial contact can take many forms. The abuser may be someone the young person knows, or CSE may start from a chance meeting. Often, initial contact takes place online via social media, or in a chatroom. The offender exploits the young person's vulnerabilities - he or she might start complimenting them on their appearance and listening to their problems. If this develops into a face-to-face meeting, the offender may continue to groom the young person by showering them with gifts, attention and affection. Often, the victim believes they are in a loving relationship and that the adult is their boyfriend/girlfriend. Once this level of trust has been gained, the offender may manipulate the young person into a sexual relationship with intimidation, threats, violence and sometimes the use of drugs and alcohol.

Free drink and drugs... Lone adults or groups of adults may target young people by offering them free drink, drugs and cigarettes, making them feel that they're being treated like grown-ups. The adult/s may then take advantage of young people when they're under the influence of drink and drugs, and inhibitions are lowered – leaving them vulnerable. This can develop into a regular pattern of drink and drugs being offered in exchange for sexual favours. Again intimidation, threats and violence may feature in this scenario.

He/she takes me to parties... Lone adults or groups of adults may invite young people to house parties with older adults. The offenders may offer young people drugs and alcohol and then take advantage of them while they are under the influence.

Spot the signs of CSE

Some or all of the following behaviours can be indicators that abuse is taking place:

  • Is the young person regularly missing from home or care?
  • Do they have physical injuries?
  • Are they taking drugs or misusing alcohol?
  • Are they estranged from their family?
  • Have they had repeated sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or pregnancies?
  • Are they regularly absent from school?
  • Have they received gifts from unknown sources?
  • Are they self harming?
  • Have they attempted suicide?
  • Is there evidence of online abuse through the internet and social networking sites?
  • Are they trying to coax friends into exploitative situations?

What can I do about CSE as a parent or carer?

Here are a few tips for parents and carers to reduce the risk for the children in your care:

  1. Discuss the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships with your children.
  2. Talk to them about the lifestyle choices they make in terms of sex, drugs and alcohol – discuss the implications of those choices.
  3. Put measures in place to minimise online risks.  You can find out more information about how to do this by visiting the CEOP website (link opens in a new browser window)  
  4. Monitor what they are doing online and talk to them about the dangers of sharing too much information and building relationships with strangers.
  5. Be cautious of older friends your child may have. If you have any concerns, call us to discuss them.
  6. Be aware of new, unexplained gifts or possessions and carefully monitor any instances of staying out late or not returning home.
  7. Stay alert to changes in behaviour or any physical signs of abuse such as bruising. Read the 'spot the signs of CSE' section above for additional 'red flags'.

Report suspicious CSE activity

Don’t shy away from reporting suspicious behaviour and don’t worry about wasting our time – we want to know about your concerns. Look out for the following:

  1. Adults regularly in the company of young people who are not relatives, and where it just seems a bit unusual
  2. Instances where young people are attending adult parties.
  3. Adults who have regular visits from young people to their home and there does not seem to be an obvious reason for it.
  4. Adults checking into hotels and B&Bs with young people who are not relatives.
  5. Adults seemingly in consensual relationships with people who may be underage.
  6. Drivers pulling over to talk to youngsters in the street.