Child sexual exploitation involves situations, contexts or relationships in which a person under 18 is given something, such as food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts or money in return for performing sexual activities or having sexual activities performed on them. It can also involve violence, coercion and intimidation, with threats of physical harm or humiliation.

Common patterns

In all cases of child sexual exploitation (CSE), the person exploiting the child or young person is able to create the impression of authority over them in some form. This could be because of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength or economic situation.

Sexual exploitation of children can start through the use of technology, without them immediately realising. For example, they might be persuaded to post images on the internet or via mobile phone without immediate payment or personal gain.

Violence, coercion and intimidation are common, with a particular vulnerability of the child or young person being used against them. This can make the young person feel as though they have no choice but to continue the relationship.

Warning signs

Signs of a child or young person being in an exploitative relationship can vary. Some examples are:

  • going missing from home or care
  • physical injuries
  • misuse of drugs or alcohol
  • involvement in offending
  • repeat sexually-transmitted infections, pregnancies or terminations
  • absenteeism from school
  • deterioration in physical appearance
  • evidence of online sexual bullying
  • evidence of vulnerability on social networking sites
  • emotional distance from family members
  • receiving gifts from unknown sources
  • recruiting others into exploitative situations
  • poor mental health
  • self-harming
  • thinking about or attempting suicide


If you suspect a person of carrying out child sexual exploitation, or think someone you know has been a victim, or may be soon, visit our How to report possible child abuse page or call our non-emergency number, 101. If someone is in immediate danger of harm, please call 999 now.

Useful links

Barnardo's

A national charity helping children in poverty, supporting young carers and helping families looking to foster or adopt.

National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)

A national children's charity, preventing abuse and helping those affected to recover.

Parents Against Child Exploitation (PACE)

The leading national charity working with parents and carers of sexually exploited children.

ECPAT UK

A UK organisation campaigning against child trafficking and exploitation.