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Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a type of sexual abuse where children and young people are manipulated or forced to perform sexual activities (e.g. penetrative sex, sexual touching, masturbation, or sending sexual images) often in exchange for things like money, drugs, gifts, affection, food, and accommodation.

Anyone can be a perpetrator of CSE, no matter their age, ethnicity or gender, and children and young people are often tricked into believing that they are in a loving relationship, often known as grooming.

Grooming involves building a relationship, trust, and emotional connection with the child or young person so that they can be taken advantage of and exploited. The forms of relationship a groomer can build includes romantic relationships, mentorships, and relationships can be built via social media, messaging apps, on games and apps, or in person. A groomer will often give the child or young person a lot of attention, gifts, and take them on trips/outings or holidays.

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) can occur through the use of technology without the child’s immediate recognition; for example being persuaded to post sexual images on the Internet or by message without immediate payment or gain. An abuser can control the child or young person using violence or blackmail before moving onto sexual abuse, and this can happen within a short time period.

Both girls and boys are at risk of sexual exploitation, and children are most vulnerable between the ages of 13 and 15, though children can be targeted at a younger age. Children and young people often find it very hard to understand or accept that they are being abused through sexual exploitation, and this increases their risk of being exposed to violent assault and life threatening events by those who abuse them.

Children and young people can be trafficked into or within the UK to be sexually exploited. Learn more about child trafficking and modern slavery here.

Signs of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

Knowing the signs of child sexual exploitation (CSE) can help give a voice to children. A child is unlikely to know they are being groomed or exploited and might not speak out. Any child can be groomed into exploitation, though some children may be more at risk. Children who are more vulnerable, for example children in care and children with disabilities, may be more heavily targeted by groomers who want the child to become dependent on them.

Any sudden changes in a young person’s lifestyle should be discussed with them. It is important to remember that warning signs will be presented differently for each child or young person being sexually exploited. Teens might also behave in a way that could be seen as ‘normal teenage behaviour’, masking the sexual exploitation.

Signs that a child or young person is being groomed or sexually exploited include:

  • Unhealthy or inappropriate sexual behaviour
  • Persistently going missing for periods of time or returning home late regularly
  • Frequently staying out late or overnight with no explanation as to where they have been
  • Being secretive about who they are talking to and where they are going
  • Using more than one phone
  • Spending more time online or on their devices
  • Excessive receipt of texts or phone calls, letters, or emails
  • Having an older girlfriend or boyfriend, or having relationships with controlling older individuals or groups
  • Unexplained absences from school, college, training, or work
  • Suddenly acquiring expensive gifts such as mobile phones, jewellery – even drugs – and not being able to explain how they came by them
  • Having mood swings and changes in temperament
  • Having hotel cards or keys to unknown places
  • Noticeable changes in behaviour – becoming secretive, defensive or aggressive when asked about their personal life
  • Wearing inappropriate clothing that is too adult or revealing for their age
  • Significant changes in emotional well-being
  • Sudden changes in lifestyle
  • Increasingly disruptive or violent behaviour
  • Getting into trouble with the police
  • Bruises, marks on the body, bleeding in their genital or anal area, sexually-transmitted diseases, pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse or self-harm

Effects of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

Child sexual exploitation can have long-term effects on a child or young person, including:

  • Mental health problems
  • Pregnancy at a young age
  • Struggle with trust, fearful of forming new relationships
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Low attainment and truancy or dropping out of education
  • Unemployment
  • Self-harm and suicide attempts
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Criminal behaviour
  • Homelessness

See the NSPCC’s information and guidance on Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) here.

If you have any concerns that a child or young person is being sexually exploited call Sussex Police on 101 and quote Operation Kite.

Links and Resources

  • PACE (Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation) provide free online training called Keep Them Safe. The course is aimed at parents, but safeguarding professionals will also find this e-learning a valuable source of introductory information on what child sexual exploitation is, the impacts of this abuse on families and how to take action in reporting or stopping sexual exploitation.

Click here for the Pan Sussex Procedure on Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE).

If you are concerned about a child, please contact the Integrated Front Door (IFD) by clicking on the link below: 

IFD Portal