Child Sexual Exploitation

The Facts

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) involves exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where young people receive something (for example food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, gifts, money or in some cases simply affection) as a result of engaging in sexual activities. 

Sexual exploitation can take many forms ranging from the seemingly ‘consensual’ relationship where sex is exchanged for affection or gifts, to serious organised crime by gangs and groups. What marks out exploitation is an imbalance of power in the relationship. The perpetrator always holds some kind of power over the victim which increases as the exploitative relationship develops. Sexual exploitation involves varying degrees of coercion, intimidation or enticement, including unwanted pressure from peers to have sex, sexual bullying including cyberbullying and grooming. However, it also important to recognise that some young people who are being sexually exploited do not exhibit any external signs of this abuse.

CSE involves young people receiving something in exchange for sexual acts. Sexual exploitation can take many forms ranging from seemingly consensual relationships to serious gang and group exploitation. Therefore you may have some concerns if your friend starts to receive lots of new electronic equipment, when before there was none, seeming to have extra money to spend, moving away from established friendship groups etc.

When sexual exploitation happens online, young people may be persuaded, or forced, to:

  • Take part in sexual activities via a webcam or smartphone
  • Send or post sexually explicit images of themselves
  • Have sexual conversations by text or online

Abusers may threaten to send images, video or copies of conversations to the young person's friends and family unless they take part in other sexual activity. Images or videos may continue to be shared long after the sexual abuse has stopped.


Often children and young people who are victims of sexual exploitation do not recognise that they are being abused. You may recognise that your friend suddenly has more money or an additional phone. They may be talking about meeting up with people that you don't know, perhaps they might be dressing in a different way. There are a number of warning signs and behaviours that can indicate that a young person may be being groomed for sexual exploitation.

  • Sexual health and behaviour (Evidence of sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy and termination; inappropriate sexualised behaviour)
  • Absent from school or repeatedly running away (Evidence of truancy or periods of being missing from home or care)
  • Familial abuse and/or problems at home (Familial sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, as well as risk of forced marriage or honour based violence; domestic violence; substance misuse; parental mental health concerns; parental criminality; experience of homelessness; living in a care home or temporary accommodation)
  • Emotional and physical condition (Thoughts of, or attempted suicide or self-harming; low esteem or self-confidence; problems relating to sexual exploitation, learning difficulties or poor mental health; unexplained injuries or changes in physical appearance)
  • Gangs, older age groups and involvement in crime (Involvement in crime, direct involvement with gang members or living in a gang afflicted community, involvement with older individuals or lacking friends from the same group, contact with other individuals who are sexually exploited)
  • Use of technology and sexual bullying (Evidence of sexting and sexualised communication on line or problematic use of the internet and social networking sites)
  • Alcohol and drug misuse
  • Receipt of unexplained gifts or money
  • Unexplained finances, including phone credit, clothes and money
  • Distrust of authority figures

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Three top tips to keep safe:

  1. Trust yourself to know when something is wrong. If someone makes you feel unsafe, pressured or frightened, follow your instincts and seek help.
  2. Don’t trust people you don’t know, even if they seem friendly – and make sure you know who you are talking to online. Never give away personal details or agree to meet someone who you have only talked to online.
  3. Don’t be tricked into doing things that are unsafe, even if they seem like fun. What might look exciting at first could be more dangerous than you realise


The following leaflet created by Barnardo’s is an excellent resource to help you stay safe

Talk to your teachers or call childline if you are concerned about a friend

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