Child Sexual Exploitation

According to UK National Working Group for Sexually Exploited
Children and Young People (NWG)
, Sexual Exploitation of children under the age of 18, both girls and boys, involves exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where young people (or a third person or persons) receive 'something' (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of them performing, and/or another or others performing on them, sexual activities.

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/mobile phones without immediate payment or gain. In all cases, those exploiting the child/young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources. Violence, coercion and intimidation are common, involvement in exploitative relationships being characterised in the main by the child or young person's limited availability of choice resulting from their social/economic and/or emotional vulnerability.

CSE is often hidden and may go unnoticed; however it is a major child protection issue in the UK. The child may trust their abuser and often are unaware that what is actually happening is abuse. The child may feel that they are dependent on their abuser however are fearful to tell anyone about what is happening.

Here are just some of the signs and indicators which demonstrate that a child may be sexually exploited:

Physical Signs

  • unexplained injuries
  • multiple pregnancies
  • sexually transmitted diseases
  • pelvic inflammatory disease
  • a rapid change in appearance

Behavioural Signs

  • sexualised behaviour
  • self-harm
  • change in eating habits
  • mental health problems
  • disruptive behaviour

Risk factors

  • low self-esteem
  • absence from home or school
  • issues around body image
  • alcohol and drug abuse
  • family bereavement
  • parents with alcohol problems
  • dysfunctional family home
  • being in care
  • having a learning disability

Local guidance on Child Sexual Exploitation:

Click on the links below for more information on CSE

Safeguarding children and young people from sexual exploitation
supplementary guidance to Working Together to Safeguard Children


NHS – How to spot child sexual exploitation

Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation (PACE UK) - provides a free online course 

Barnardos – Child Sexual Exploitation

Harmful Sexual Behaviour 

The NSPCC has published helpful learning about working with children and young people, who exhibit sexualised behaviour, that may be harmful. It can be accessed via this link.

The Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse

The Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse has published key briefings around CSE for Police, Health practitioners, Education, Social Workers, and Commissioners here.