Child sexual exploitation

Child sexual exploitation is a major child protection concern for communities across the UK. Hidden from view and going unnoticed, vulnerable young girls and boys are groomed and then abused, leaving them traumatised and scarred for life.

We have teamed up with Barnardo’s to provide a new service to reduce the number of children at risk of CSE and offer better support to victims.

What is child sexual exploitation?

Child sexual exploitation is illegal activity by people who have power over young people and use it to sexually abuse them. This can involve a broad range of exploitative activity, from seemingly 'consensual' relationships and informal exchanges of sex for attention, accommodation, gifts or cigarettes, through to very serious organised crime.

The sexual exploitation of children and young people (CSE) under the age of 18 is defined as: 'situations, contexts and relationships where young people (or a third person or people) receive 'something' (eg 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 can take place through the use of technology without the child or young person realising they have been exploited; for example being persuaded to post sexual images on the internet 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.

Warning signs

Young people in certain situations are more vulnerable than others to exploitation. These could include:

  • Living in a chaotic or dysfunctional household (including parental substance use, domestic violence, parental mental health issues, parental criminality)
  • History of abuse (including familial child sexual abuse, risk of forced marriage, risk of 'honour'-based violence, physical and emotional abuse and neglect)
  • Recent bereavement or loss
  • Gang association either through relatives, peers or intimate relationships (in cases of gang-associated CSE only)
  • Attending school with young people who are sexually exploited
  • Learning disabilities
  • Unsure about their sexual orientation or unable to disclose sexual orientation to their families
  • Friends with young people who are sexually exploited
  • Homeless
  • Lacking friends from the same age group
  • Living in a gang neighbourhood
  • Living in residential care
  • Living in hostel, bed and breakfast accommodation or a foyer
  • Low self-esteem or self-confidence
  • Young carer

The following signs and behaviour are often seen in children who are already being sexually exploited:

  • Missing from home or care
  • Physical injuries
  • Drug or alcohol misuse
  • Involvement in offending
  • Repeat sexually-transmitted infections, pregnancy and terminations
  • Absent from school
  • 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

Evidence shows that any child displaying several of the points in the above lists should be considered to be at high risk of sexual exploitation. Professionals should immediately start an investigation to determine the risk, along with preventative and protective action as required.

What you should do:

If you think a child or vulnerable adult is at risk of child sexual exploitation in Norfolk and want to speak to someone contact the MASH on 0344 800 8020.

The ROSE Campaign (Reaching Out On Sexual Exploitation) is a registered charity that can also help. Click here to view the ROSE Campaign's leaflet.