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Child Sexual Exploitation

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To report child sexual exploitation call 999 if the child is at immediate risk, or call 101 if you think a crime has been committed, or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online. If you are concerned about your own thoughts and behaviour in relation to Child Sexual Abuse contact Stop It Now!


What is Child Sexual Exploitation?

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a type of sexual abuse. When a child or young person is exploited they’re given things, like gifts, drugs, money, status and affection, in exchange for performing sexual activities. Children and young people are often tricked into believing they’re in a loving and consensual relationship. This is called grooming. They may trust their abuser and not understand that they’re being abused. Sometimes abusers use violence and intimidation to frighten or force a child, so they feel they have no choice, including around finances.

Children and young people can be trafficked into or within the UK to be sexually exploited. They’re moved around the country and abused by being forced to take part in sexual activities, often with more than one person. Young people in gangs can also be sexually exploited.

Child Sexual Exploitation includes rape, prostitution, sexual photography, subjection to pornography or witnessing sexual acts, and sexual assault or acts involving a child.

CSE can happen in person or online.

Online exploitation online may include:

  • Send or post sexually explicit images of themselves
  • Film or stream sexual activities
  • Have sexual conversations.

All of which may be used by the abuser to threaten and blackmail the young person or child to take part in other sexual activity. They may also share with others or circulate them online.

Gangs use child sexual exploitation:

  • To exert power and control
  • For initiation
  • To use sexual violence as a weapon.

Children or young people might be invited to parties or gatherings with drugs and alcohol. They may be assaulted and sexually abused by one person or multiple perpetrators. The sexual assaults and abuse can be violent, humiliating and degrading.

Signs of child sexual exploitation can be difficult to spot. The NSPCC have provided a list of signs:

  • Unhealthy or inappropriate sexual behaviour.
  • Being frightened of some people, places or situations.
  • Bring secretive.
  • Sharp changes in mood or character.
  • Having money or things they can’t or won’t explain.
  • Physical signs of abuse, like bruises or bleeding in their genital or anal area.
  • Alcohol or drug misuse.
  • Sexually transmitted infections.

Along with the following:

  • Having an older boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • Staying out late or overnight.
  • Having a new group of friends.
  • Missing from home or care, or stopping going to school or college.
  • Hanging out with older people, other vulnerable people or in antisocial groups.
  • Involved in a gang.
  • Involved in criminal activities like selling drugs or shoplifting.

There is more information on the NSPCC website.

Some of these signs can be difficult to differentiate from normal teenage behaviour as children get older.

The effects of child sexual exploitation, occur for both in person and online victims and are likely to have long term effects, some of which include:

  • struggle with trust and be fearful of forming new relationships
  • become isolated from family and friends
  • fail exams or drop out of education
  • become pregnant at a young age
  • experience unemployment
  • have mental health problems
  • make suicide attempts
  • abuse alcohol and drugs
  • take part in criminal behaviour
  • experience homelessness.

The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 provides police with the power to require hotels and similar establishments to provide information about guests where they believe child sexual exploitation has taken place.

Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014 has included the provision of statutory guidance on understanding, preventing and responding to child sexual exploitation through the Safeguarding children from child sexual exploitation guidance. The Wales Safeguarding Procedures include a practice guide on safeguarding children from child sexual exploitation.

Serious Crime Act 2015 and Sexual Offences Act 2003 make it illegal in England and Wales to:

  • Incite or cause a child aged under 16 to engage in sexual activity
  • Facilitate a child sex offence
  • Meet a child following sexual grooming
  • Have sexual communication with a child under the age of 16
  • Take, make or possess indecent photographs and images of children under the age of 18
  • Sexually exploit a child aged under 18.

In England and Wales the offence of grooming applies to anyone over 18 who grooms anyone under 16.

The Home Office provides guidance on the Sexual Offences Act 2003, including the different sexual offences and their maximum penalties. The guidance also covers Sexual Harm Prevention Orders and Sexual Risk Orders. With guidelines on prosecuting cases of child sexual abuse provided by the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Sex Offenders Act 1997 sets out a series of monitoring and reporting requirements for sex offenders.

“Sarah’s Law” means that under the Child sex offender disclosure scheme anyone in England and Wales can ask the police if someone with access to a child has a record for child sexual offences (Home Office). The Police will reveal details confidentially to the person most able to protect the child if they think it is in the child’s interest.

The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 provides the framework for the vetting and barring of people seeking to work with children.

There is guidance to support practitioners who are carrying out medical examinations of children and young people who have or are thought to have experienced sexual abuse and exploitation.

Social Care Wales: Safeguarding Awareness Training

Centre of expertise on child sexual abuse:

NSPCC: Training in safeguarding and child protection

Stop It Now!: Training for professionals

PACE: Training for professionals

Department of Health and The Children’s Society, Seen and Heard offers e-learning and training for professionals so they know how to help a child that discloses child sexual exploitation or abuse

Welsh Government Hwb: A family guide to talking about grooming

Help and Support

For victims, families and concerned people

To report child sexual exploitation call 999 if the child is at immediate risk, or call 101 if you think a crime has been committed, or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online.

PACE works with parents and cares of children who are, or are at risk of, sexual exploitation. They can be called on 0113 240 5226 or fill in their online form.

Barnardo’s provide support to parents through their services across the UK.

The NSPCC run therapeutic services for those who have experienced, or are at risk of being sexually exploited.

Children and young people can contact:

  • Fearless to report crime anonymously
  • Gangsline for free advice and support from ex-gang members
  • Victim Support if they’ve experienced crime
  • Childline can provide advice for children and young people.

There are tools made available by the NSPCC to help prevent child sexual exploitation, around talking to children about staying safe; knowing what to do if worried about gangs; and help to keep children safe online.

There is also help for those who are worried about their own behaviour. If a person is thinking or has sexually exploited a child or young person they can contact Stop it now!, a free helpline offering information, guidance and support. Call free on 0808 1000 900 Monday to Thursday 9am to 9pm or Friday 9am to 5pm, or use the 24-hours a day secure messaging service.