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‘CSE’ or child sexual exploitation happens when a young person is encouraged or forced to take part in sexual activity. This might be in exchange for presents, money, alcohol or simply attention.

People who commit CSE often ‘groom’ their victims in order to gain their trust. Later, when the behaviour of the abuser starts to change, many children are too frightened to come forward. Violence, coercion and intimidation are often part of CSE as many perpetrators target the most vulnerable of children. This vulnerability is often due to economic or personal circumstances that leave young people with few choices.

Sometimes, children don’t realise they are being abused. This might lead them to suffer in silence for years without talking to anyone about what is happening. It can happen to both boys and girls from all backgrounds and communities, right across the UK.

Child sexual exploitation is never the young person’s fault, even if they feel that they have ‘agreed’ to the sexual activity.


Possible forms of Child Sexual Exploitation

Inappropriate relationships often involve one perpetrator with power or control over a young person. Maybe this is because they are physically stronger, older or in a position of authority/care.

Sometimes an offender is several years older and ‘befriends’ (or grooms) the young person by exploiting their vulnerabilities. The child may initially feel they are in a positive and rewarding relationship with the adult.
Due to power imbalances and control issues, young people can become isolated and more and more dependent on the ‘boyfriend’, often being coerced or forced into sex with them and their associates.

Young people are sometimes passed by adults through between locations, whether it be their associates’ homes or towns and cities, where they may be forced or coerced into sexual activity, often with multiple people. This is known as trafficking. Young people are sometimes made to recruit other young people to take part.

Sexual bullying refers to unwanted pressure from the child’s peers to have sexual contact and includes cyber bullying. Sexual bullying can happen quickly without the forming of a relationship or the grooming process. Incidents may be filmed on mobile phones and circulated. It can occur publicly or involve multiple perpetrators.

Young people in gangs or groups may be sexually exploited as part of gang initiation or punishment. They may also be encouraged to recruit more children, exposing them to CSE and making it difficult to identify those who control the gang.

Children are often also groomed and befriended by abusers, pretending to be ‘friends’ or ‘boyfriends’ before being ‘passed around’ gangs of predatory abusers. This is often referred to as ‘on street grooming’.

Spotting Signs

  • Mood swings – angry, emotional, withdrawn, suicide attempts, depression.
  • Bruising, scarring on the body.
  • Receiving gifts.
  • Staying out late or not returning home.
  • Secretive and distant towards family and friends.
  • Skipping education.
  • Involved in criminal activity.
  • Education grades dropping.
  • Sexually transmitted infections.
  • Pregnancy or miscarriage
  • Using alcohol or drugs
  • Eating disorders
  • Not sleeping, nightmares, anxiety, panic attacks.
  • Violence or aggression towards parents, siblings or animals.

Why won’t a victim come forward

There are many reasons why a victim won’t disclose the abuse they are suffering. It might be that the victim…

  • Doesn’t recognise it as abuse.
  • Believes the abuser is their boyfriend / think it’s normal.
  • Finds it too difficult to talk about.
  • Thinks the abuser will change.
  • Feels embarrassed, ashamed, judged, to blame, fears rejection, will bevome isolated or called a liar.
  • Becomes emotionally attached to the abuser.
  • Feels will put themselves and family at risk.
  • Doesn’t know who to tell or trust.
  • Becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol.
  • Has committed criminal offences.
  • has lost trust in the police, the cps and the criminal justice system
  • doesn’t know where to turn for help and support