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Child Exploitation, including Child Sexual Exploitation

Child Exploitation

This guidance sets out the way we work with children who are being exploited, or are at risk of being exploited. The exploitation may be sexual or criminal. This guidance sets out the agreed procedures that have been developed to recognise, safeguard and support those children considered to be at risk of child exploitation within West Sussex. It is designed to complement and be read in conjunction with the Pan Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures: Chapter 8.33 Child Sexual Exploitation.

Child exploitation 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 or criminal activity in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. (Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018).

Exploited children are victims of abuse. Children do not make informed choices to enter into or to remain in exploitative situations, and only do so through coercion, enticement, manipulation or desperation. Children may also exploit other children and this can often be because they have been exploited themselves or perpetuate harm as a result of being groomed/fear of coercion. It is critical that professionals are careful they do not adopt a blame approach.

Children who are being exploited or, who are at risk of being exploited, will have varying levels of needs. They may have multiple vulnerabilities and therefore an appropriate multi- agency response and effective coordination is essential to ensure the child safety. Abuse does not occur because of a child’s vulnerability, it occurs because there is someone willing to take advantage of this vulnerability and because there are inadequate protective structures around the child and family to mediate against this.

Child Criminal Exploitation is the exploitation of a child to engage in criminal activity for the gain of another adult. County Lines is a term used to describe organised criminal networks exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas (within the UK). This can take many forms, including shoplifting, theft, robbery violent crime, carrying weapons, drug running, or dealing drugs on behalf of adults.

They use dedicated mobile phones in the ‘dealing lines’ and often use children and adults to move and store drugs and money through coercion, intimidation, violence, sexual violence and weapons. To read more about County Lines click on the links below:

County Lines Information (Crime Stoppers)

County Lines Information (National Crime Agency)

Child Sexual Exploitation is a form 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. Children may have been sexually exploited when the sexual activity appears consensual as exploitation can involve enticement-based methods of compliance and may not always be accompanied by violence or threats of violence; it 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). The abuse can be a one-off occurrence or a series of incidents over time, and range from opportunistic to complex organised abuse. Child sexual exploitation can include physical contact (penetrative and non-penetrative acts) it does not always involve physical contact, can take place in person or via technology, or a combination of both.

A common feature of child exploitation is that the child does not recognise the coercive nature of the relationship and therefore does not see themselves as a victim of exploitation. Therefore the importance of professional curiosity, empathy and persistence are required when working with children who may be at risk or experiencing exploitation. Read more about child sexual exploitation below:

Child Sexual Exploitation Information (NSPCC)

How to Spot Child Sexual Exploitation (NHS)

Online Child Sexual Exploitation (and Child Sexual Abuse)

Child Exploitation Appropriate Language Guide 2022

YouTube link to Victim Blaming Language clip

Why language matters: why we should avoid the term ‘victim’ when talking about children who have experienced abuse (NSPCC) January 2024)


Children under the age of 16 cannot lawfully consent to sexual activity. Anyone engaging in sexual activity with a child under 16 is committing a criminal offence, regardless of age.

Non consensual sex is rape whatever the age of the child. Where consent is purported to be obtained, but the child was incapacitated through drink or drugs or, the child or their family have been subjected to violence or the threat of it; the child cannot be considered to have given true consent and therefore offences may have been committed.

Specific serious offences, including rape, apply to anyone engaging in sexual activity with a child under the age of 13 as the child is presumed incapable of consent.

Read more about consent – 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

What to do if you think a child is vulnerable to exploitation or there is a possibility they are being exploited

Below is a copy of the Complex Safeguarding and Child Exploitation Notification which has a set of prompts that will assist practitioners to identify indicators of exploitation, and consider what actions are needed to safeguard a child.

Complex Safeguarding Child Exploitation Assessment Notification Tool

Please ensure that the West Sussex LSCP Multi-Agency Child Exploitation Procedures and guidance for professionals working with children are followed and this document is uploaded to your recording system and a copy sent to

All professionals should be aware that all assessments need to be continual and that they should continually remain vigilant to risk increasing or decreasing. The safety plans for children who are exploited focus on disruption of the exploitative relationships and building the attachments with family or carers and education.

Where to get help

If there are concerns identified and the practitioner is concerned about the child’s safety a referral via the Integrated Front door (IFD) Portal using the link below:

Integrated Front Door (IFD) Portal :

Integrated Front Door (IFD) Portal information on how to refer concerns

Telephone number: 01403 229900

National CSE Helpline: 116 000 or

Supporting the child and their family must be based on a multidisciplinary assessment of their circumstances and needs. Families, carers and friends of children experiencing Child Exploitation will often find this distressing and they can be referred to the following for support and advice:

PACE – Parents against child sexual exploitation
National Working Group for sexually exploited children