Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a type of sexual abuse. It happens when a person under the age of 18 is coerced, manipulated or deceived into sexual activity in exchange for things that they may need or want, like gifts, drugs, money, status or affection. Children are often tricked into believing that they're in a loving and consensual relationship. This is called grooming and is a type of abuse. The child may trust their abuser and not realise that they are being abused. CSE does not always include physical contact, and can also occur through the use of technology.
Children and young people can be trafficked into or within the UK for sexual exploitation. They're moved around the country and abused by being forced to take part in sexual activities, often with more than one person. Young people in gangs can also be sexually exploited.
Sometimes abusers use violence and intimidation to frighten or force a child or young person, making them feel as if they've no choice. They may lend them large sums of money they know can't be repaid or use financial abuse or blackmail to control them.
Anybody can be a perpetrator of CSE, no matter their age, gender or race. The relationship could be framed or viewed as friendship, someone to look up to or romantic. Children and young people who are exploited may also be made to 'find' or coerce other to join groups.
It's important to recognise that although the age of consent is 16 years old, children and young people over 16 can be exploited. Child sexual exploitation is a very complex form of abuse. It can be difficult for parents and carers to understand and hard for the young person to acknowledge that they are being exploited.
CSE can happen in person or online. An abuser will gain a child's trust or control them through violence or blackmail before moving onto sexually abusing them. This can happen in a short period of time.
When a child is sexually exploited online they might be persuaded or forced to:
Once an abuser has images, video or copies of conversations, they might use threats and blackmail to force a young person to take part in other sexual activity. They may also share the images and videos with others or circulate them online.
Gangs use sexual exploitation:
Children and young people might be invited to parties or gatherings with others their own age or adults and given drugs and alcohol. They may be assaulted and sexually abused by one person or multiple perpetrators. The sexual assaults and abuse can be violent, humiliating and degrading. It's important to remember an intoxicated person cannot give consent to sexual activity.
Sexual exploitation can be difficult to spot and sometimes mistaken for 'normal' teenage behaviour. Knowing the signs can help protect children and help them when they've no one else to turn to. Signs can include:
Other things you might notice:
They may not know where they are, because they've been moved around the country, and seem frightened, confused or angry. They may feel unable to reach out for support or not know how to start the conversation.
A child might know they're being sexually exploited. They might be worried or confused and less likely to speak to an adult they trust.
If a child talks to you about sexual exploitation it's important to:
If you suspect child sexual exploitation is happening, it's important you seek support. There are some things you can do to help your child, like gathering any information that may be useful in an investigation such as names, ages, social media handles, telephone numbers or vehicle reg numbers.
Both sexual exploitation in person and online can have long-term effects on a child or young person. They may:
To report sexual exploitation:
For parent and carers
Finding out your child has been sexually exploited can be frightening and distressing. But there's help for you and your family.
PACE works with parents and carers of children who are, or at risk of, being sexually exploited. You can call them for confidential help and advice on 0113 240 5226 fill in their online form.
Barnardo's can support both children and parents through their direct services across the UK.
For children and young people
NSPCC run therapeutic services for children who have experienced, or are at risk of, sexual exploitation and abuse:
Find out more about their services here, including how to get in touch with ones in your area.
Children and young people can contact:
How Childline can help
We understand how difficult it is for children to talk about sexual exloitation and abuse. Whether it's happening now or happened in the past, Childline can be contacted 24/7. Calls to 0800 1111 are free and confidential. Children can also contact Childline online.
Childline has information and advice for children and young people about: