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Child Sexual Exploitation

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator.
The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.

Like child sexual abuse, CSE:
  • can still be abuse even if the sexual activity appears consensual
  • can include both contact (penetrative & non-penetrative) and non-contact sexual activity
  • can take place in person and/or via technology
  • can involve force and/or enticement, and may include violence or threats of violence
  • may occur without the child or young person’s immediate knowledge e.g. through copying or posting images or videos on social media
  • can be perpetrated by individuals or groups, males or females, children or adults
  • can be a single incident, a series of incidents, opportunistic, and/or complex organised abuse
  • is typified by a power imbalance in favour of those perpetrating the abuse due e.g. to age, gender, sexual identity, cognitive ability, physical strength, status, and/or access to economic or other resources
A key factor is the presence of some form of exchange in return for something:
  • Tangible e.g. money, drugs, alcohol
  • Intangible e.g. status, protection, perceived love or affection
  • Prevention of something negative e.g. a child engages in sexual activity to stop someone carrying out a threat to harm their family.

As this exchange occurs within an unequal power dynamic, the receipt of something by a child or young person still makes them a victim.
Consent cannot be given even where a child may believe they are voluntarily engaging in sexual activity with the person who is exploiting them.
Even though the legal age of consent to sexual activity is 16 years, a person between 16 & 18 years old cannot ‘consent’ to abusive or exploitative sexual activity as they have legal protection as a child.

Your safeguarding duty to protect and support does not depend on the child or young person’s desire to be safeguarded:
  • Always focus on the child/young person
  • Help them to understand
Top tips:
  • CSE can occur without any warning signs or risk indicators being present
  • The presence of indicators may also be explained by other forms of vulnerability rather than child sexual exploitation
  • Clear communication and close multi-agency working is key to effective & timely responses
  • Agree the role of each professional
  • Planning for transitions for all needs should start early
Avoid stereotypes:
  • CSE can affect any child or young person male or female under the age of 18 years
  • is perpetrated by men and women from all ethnic backgrounds
CSE is never the victim’s fault

ALL children and young people can be vulnerable to sexual exploitation, but some are known to be at greater risk if they:

  • have a prior experience of neglect, physical and/or sexual abuse
  • lack or have lacked a safe & stable home environment e.g. experiencing domestic violence, parental substance misuse, mental health issues, criminal activity
  • have experienced recent bereavement or loss
  • experience social isolation or social difficulties
  • do not have a safe environment to explore sexuality
  • are economically vulnerable
  • are homeless or are in insecure accommodation
  • have connections with other children and young people who are being sexually exploited
  • have family members or other connections involved in adult sex work
  • have a physical or learning disability
  • are in care (particularly those in residential care and those with interrupted care histories)
  • are exploring their sexual identity