Sexual Exploitation

What is Child Sexual Exploitation?

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE), is a serious form of child abuse that involves the sexual exploitation of children. An individual or group may take advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child into sexual activity in exchange for something the victim needs or wants and/or for the financial advantage or the increased status of the perpetrator.

It is important to understand and be aware of the signs and indicators of CSE in order to respond effectively as a practitioner. Child Sexual Exploitation can occur both in-person and online and can involve common tactics including grooming, manipulation, and coercion.

The videos below highlight how any child can be vulnerable.

NWG: Any Child

NWG (National Working Group) focus on raising awareness about Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) through events like NWG Child Exploitation Day 2023. The message that "Any Child can become a victim of CSE" is a powerful one and was explored via video, in a campaign to raise awareness.

Spotting the signs of CSE

Sexual exploitation can be difficult to spot and sometimes mistaken for 'normal' teenage behaviour

Signs can include:

  • Unhealthy or inappropriate sexual behaviour for their age
  • Being frightened of certain people, places or situations
  • Being secretive
  • Sharp changes in mood or character
  • Having money or possessions they can't or won't explain
  • Physical signs of abuse, like scars from self harming and bruises or bleeding in their genital or anal area
  • Alcohol or drug misuse
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Pregnancy
  • Having an older boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Staying out late or overnight
  • Having a new group of friends
  • Going missing from home or care
  • Non attendance or low attendance at school or college

To download the West Yorkshire Police 'Know the Signs' leaflet, click here

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What are the Risk Factors of CSE?

All children can be sexually exploited. Some groups of children are, however at an increased risk of CSE

These include children who:

  • have learning difficulties or disabilities
  • are children in care
  • are migrants
  • are seeking asylum
  • are homeless
  • run away from home and care and/or are missing from education

Sexual exploitation can sometimes be difficult to identify and can sometimes be mistaken for ‘normal’ teenage behaviour.

CSE rarely occurs in isolation of other vulnerability and risk factors and is often linked to other types of criminal activity. This can look like child trafficking, domestic abuse and violence, interpersonal violence and abuse in intimate relationships, drug-related offences, gang-related activity such as 'gift girling' (a process whereby a male is 'rewarded' with a girl for their involvment in CCE) and modern-day slavery.

Absence of any of the potential indicators of CSE does not mean that a child is not experiencing abuse and exploitation. Assessing if a child is at risk of or is experiencing CSE requires a full and holistic assessment of all concerns. Click here to find out more about exploitation.

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Why children can't see when they are being exploited

When a child is exposed to CSE they can sometimes develop a 'trauma bond'

Otherwise known as Stockholm Syndrome, this bond occurs when the victim identifies closely with the person wishing them harm.

Children tend to take things at face value and may innocently trust that someone is being honest with them, especially when they are vulnerable.

To read more about trauma bonding, its symptoms, how the brain responds and breaking the cylce as well as accessing service support from Ivison Trust (formally PACE Parents Against Child Exploitation) click here

More about Adversity, Trauma & Resilience
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Perpetrator behaviour

Typical patterns of behaviours:

Grooming Perpetrators often work to gain the trust of a child through seemingly friendly gestures, such as giving gifts, providing drugs or alcohol, offering money, and showing affection. This is done to establish a connection with a child and lower their inhibitions.

Control Once the perpetrator has gained a child's trust, they may seek to establish control over them to make them feel trapped and unable to escape the situation. This can be achieved through psychological manipulation, threats, intimidation, or even violence.

Sexual Activities Eventually, the perpetrator may exploit a child sexually, including sexual assault, molestation, or child sexual abuse material. They then use the power and control they've established to engage a child in these activities.

Online CSE There is an exponential rise in online child sexual exploitation. Perpetrators may engage with a child through social media sites, online gaming platforms, or chat rooms. They may pretend to be someone they are not, establish a rapport with the child, and manipulate them into engaging in sexual activities or sharing explicit content.

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Next steps to consider
  • What to do if you suspect CSE?
    Show details
    • CONTACT: West Yorkshire Police
    • CONTACT: Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO)
    • CONTACT: Integrated Front Door (IFD)
    • Refer: National Referral Mechanism (NRM)
    • Use: Screening Tool
    • use: Other reporting tools:
    Consider the following:
      West Yorkshire Police

      If a child is in immediate danger, call 999.

      For guidance and support on what to do if you suspect CSE you can call 101.

      If you have information that you want to share with the police you can do so by submitting it via the Partnership Intelligence Portal (PIP)
      Children Vulnerable to Exploitation (CVE) Screening Tool

      Coming soon
      Integrated Front Door (IFD)

      Visit the WSCP website
      worried about a child page for all information relating to the IFD and MASH team
    • Refer
      National Referral Mechanism (NRM)
      NRM guidance here

      Report any incidents of Modern slavery

      Members of the public should call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 0800 0121 700 or 
      report it online.
    • Use
      LADO: Allegations against a professional

      Refer to the WSCP
      LADO one minute guide for more information

    • use
      Other reporting tools:

      Call Ivison (formally PACE) on 0113 240 3040
      Text the British Transport Police on 61016
      Call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111
      Call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000
      Call the Modern Slavery Helpline 0800 012 1700 or fill in their 
      online form.
  • How Professional Curiosity & Challenge can help you
    Show details
    Being professionally curious and having the confidence to have difficult conversations with children and their families can ensure the right interventions are put in place to keep a child safe. Learn more about professional curiosity and challenge on the WSCP webpages here

    Case reviews highlight that, when practitioners suspect that a child might be at risk of sexual exploitation, it’s important to:

    1. ask questions that explore the nature of the young person’s relationship

    2. be curious about the labels and language the child and other practitioners use to talk about the relationship

    3. be clear about any safeguarding concerns when talking about or recording information about the relationship

    If practitioners use the term ‘older boyfriend/girlfriend’ without assessing the risk, they may be legitimising an exploitative relationship and minimising the risk of harm to the child. Read more here

  • Self-Care for practitioners
    Show details
    It is important to take care of both yourself and your team members if you are dealing with harrowing or difficult circumstances with a child or a family that you are supporting. For further support see below:

    Self care for professionals Stop It Now!

    Support for NHS staff click here

    Supporting staff members view resources from Mind and download the free wellness action plans

    Wakefield Council Wellbeing Services

When assessing a child
  • Text link image It is important to remember
    Show details
    1. the victim is not to blame
    2. focus on factors that may put a child at risk of harm, rather than assessing incidents that have already taken place gather as much information as possible
    3. take a multi agency approach, sharing information with other services
    4. include all potential indicators of risk such as online/social media communication; gaming; drug and/or alcohol use; gang involvement; deprivation/poverty; disability; sexual interests and attitudes
    5. look at protective factors or strengths of the child, their families and their immediate environment
    6. consider protective factors and strengths to support the child and family


Seen & Heard

Spotting the signs of CSE
March 2020

  • This 20 min video presentation is hard hitting. It deals with the issue of sexual abuse within the family. Please give your staff a pre-warning about this (not to do if they have had a difficult day!) and include the NAPAC adult survivors of abuse email address as well as your contact details if they need to talk to someone after the course.
  • There is some swearing
  • It is written from a health perspective but is very relevant for all staff

Responding to a child's disclosure of abuse

NSPCC Learning
June 2019

  • This short animation outlines the key interpersonal skills that adults should use when a child discloses abuse and/or neglect, which can help make it clear they are listening and taking the child seriously.

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

Spectrum Community Health CIC
June 2020

  • What is Child Sexual Exploitation?
  • What should you look for?
  • How can we HELP?
  • What is the RESPECT programme?

  • NWG Resource - Callum's story
    Show details
    At 14 Callum was starting to notice changes in his body but felt he couldn't talk to anyone about these. His schoolmates were changing too, talking about girls and sex, but he knew he was different, he was having feelings for other boys. Feeling alone, Callum began to search online for friendship.

    Read Callum’s Story

  • Text link image Appropriate Language in Relation to Child Exploitation
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    This document seeks to provide guidance to professionals on the appropriate use of language when discussing children and their experience of exploitation in a range of contexts.

    To access the guidance, please click here.

National Organisations

  • National Guidance, recognising, responding and prevention work around CSE for practitioners

    Visit website

  • Barnardos
    Show details

    Barnardos provide support to victims of sexual abuse and their families, and to people working with children, such as social workers and teachers, through consultation and training. For more information on the services specific to Wakefield click here

    Read more about 6 things you should know about CSE on Barnardos website or more around CSE, how to report and spot the signs here.

  • The Children's Society
    Show details

    Working alongside young people, their families and community, they provide specialist support that empowers young people to make positive changes and rediscover their hope. Read more about their services here.

    View and download the #lookcloser campaign materials.

  • Lucy Faithful Foundation
    Show details

    The Lucy Faithfull Foundation is a UK-wide charity dedicated solely to preventing child sexual abuse. They work to prevent abuse from happening in the first place – and to prevent it from happening again if it already has.

    Where abuse has already taken place, they work with all those affected including adult male and female abusers; young people with harmful sexual behaviour; children with concerning sexual behaviours; and other family members. They also provide a range of services for organisations, professionals and the public including risk assessments and intervention; expert training; specialist consultancy, and public education.

    Visit the website for more information

  • St Giles
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    St Giles offer many services from prevention work to helping young people, parents and professionalls.

    Click here for more information. or find out more about St Giles Yorkshire

  • Child Sexual Abuse Review Panel (CSARP)
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    Supports victim and survivors who reported allegations of child sexual offences which were then marked ‘no further action’ before 5 June 2013. If it is felt the decision to take ‘no further action’ in the case was in-correct, the CSARP may be able to help.

    Visit website

    Download information about the panel here

One Minute Guide
  • Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)
    Show details
    CSE is a type of sexual abuse. When a child is exploited they’re given items such as gifts or drugs, money, status and affection, in exchange for performing sexual activities. Read more and download here.

    To view the Child Exploitation series of One Minute Guides visit our Child Exploitation Learning and Development page and read more about online, child criminal, child trafficking, modern slavery and financial exploitation.

Developing skills and knowlegde around CSE
  • Text link image Learning & Development
    Show details
    Access the range of Child Exploitation training, development and resources from WSCP, as well as signposting to local and national services on our Child Exploitation learning & development page.

    There you will find links to current training offers, one minute guides, briefings, learning from reviews and signposting to local and national services that can help you with developing your skills and knowledge around Child Exploitation.

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