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Child Exploitation, including Child Sexual Exploitation

CE latest updates

There is an updated  WSSCP CE Screening Tool and Risk Assessment Guidance (July 2019) and WSSCP-Child-Exploitation-Risk-Assessment-Tool-parts-A-and-B (2019). Please use this instead of your current version. We have also developed a CSE High Level Flowchart to guide you in what to do if you have concerns.

New national guidance on Child Sexual Exploitation has been published. This is a definition and a guide for practitioners and decision makers working to protect children from child sexual exploitation.

We have reviewed the structure of our multi-agency work to understand and tackle CSE in West Sussex and the new Terms of Reference for the multi-agency meetings are now available: MEOG Terms of Reference, MACE Terms of Reference.

What is Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

Child sexual exploitation 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 wants or needs, 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.

Like all forms of child sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation:

  • can affect any child or young person (male or female) under the age of 18 years, including 16 and 17 year olds who can legally consent to have sex;
  • can still be abuse even if the sexual activity appears consensual;
  • can include both contact (penetrative and non-penetrative acts) and non-contact sexual activity;
  • can take place in person or via technology, or a combination of both;
  • can involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance and may, or may not, be accompanied by violence or threats of violence;
  • may occur without the child or young person’s immediate knowledge (through others copying videos or images they have created and posting on social media for example);
  • can be perpetrated by individuals or groups, males or females, and children or adults. The abuse can be a one-off occurrence or a series of incidents over time, and range from opportunistic to complex organised abuse; and
  • is typified by some form of power imbalance in favour or those perpetrating the abuse. Whilst age may be the most obvious, this power imbalance can also be due to a range of other factors including gender, sexual identity, cognitive ability, physical strength, status, and access to economic or other resources.

Child sexual exploitation is a complex form of abuse and it can be difficult for those working with children to identity and assess. The indicators for child sexual exploitation can sometimes be mistaken for ‘normal adolescent behaviours’. It requires knowledge, skills, professional curiosity and an assessment which analyses the risk factors and personal circumstances of individual children to ensure that the signs and symptoms are interpreted correctly and appropriate support is given. Even where a young person is old enough to legally consent to sexual activity, the law states that consent is only valid where they make a choice and have the freedom and capacity to make that choice. If a child feels they have no other meaningful choice, are under the influence of harmful substances or fearful of what might happen if they don’t comply (all of which are common features in cases of child sexual exploitation) consent cannot legally be given whatever the age of the child.

Child sexual exploitation is never the victim’s fault, even if there is some form of exchange: all children and young people under the age of 18 have a right to be safe and should be protected from harm.

CSE Practice Tool

What is Consent?

Signs of CSE

The signs of CSE may be hard to spot, especially because victims of CSE often do not recognise that they are being exploited. Common signs that a young person is being sexually exploited are:

  • Physical injuries.
  • Missing from home or care
  • Drug or alcohol misuse
  • Involvement in offending
  • Repeat sexually-transmitted infections, pregnancy and terminations
  • Absent from school
  • Change in physical appearance
  • Evidence of sexual bullying and/or vulnerability through the internet and/or social networking sites
  • Estranged from their family
  • Receipt of gifts from unknown sources
  • Recruiting others into exploitative situations
  • Poor mental health
  • Self-harm
  • Thoughts of or attempts at suicide

CSE Screening Tool and Risk Assessment

If you are a professional making a referral for a child or young person who is at risk of Child Sexual Exploitation the screening tool (Part A) would usually be completed. This uses a CSE behaviour chart detailing what the behaviours may look like depending on the level of risk. It is important to consider this as many of the signs of CSE can be viewed as ‘normal’ behaviour depending on the child’s age.

This is not mandatory so please do not let it delay making a referral, however it may assist you in being clear about the key areas of concern and the level of risk. Where a child has a social worker, or a lead professional, and there are concerns about CSE the risk assessment tool (Part B) will be completed in addition to Part A. If you do not complete the screening tool but have any of the information required please share this with MASH when making your referral.

Where to get help

If you suspect that a child or young person has been or is being sexually exploited this must be shared with the MASH and/or the Police.

Police: 101 or in an emergency 999

West Sussex Multi-agency Safeguarding Hub, MASH: 01403 229 900

EDT have been made aware that some external switchboards are cutting off calls before they connect when dialling the normal EDT number – 0330 222 6664 – you will hear one ring followed by an unobtainable tone. If you experience difficulty, having tried the 0330 number, please ring 07711 769657, this will connect you to the duty Social Worker. Please note that this mobile number cannot accept text messages.

See Something, Say Something national CSE helpline: 116 000 or 116000@missingpeople.org.uk


Supporting documents

Please see the West Sussex County Council Website for more information