Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is the sexual abuse of any young person aged under 18 and can affect any child, anywhere, at any time.
Victims of CSE might receive things like food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, gifts, money or affection in exchange for sexual activity.
Children often don’t understand that they are being abused, and in many cases believe they are in a loving relationship with the person exploiting them. Abusers will take advantage of this by isolating them from their friends and family, allowing them to gain even more control. This can leave children feeling trapped. They may think the abuse is their fault, that they have done something wrong or be scared they will be punished if they tell someone what is happening.
Parents, carers, teachers and friends are encouraged to look out for changes in behaviour such as:
- low self-esteem
- being secretive about where they go and who they see
- mood swings and changes in emotional wellbeing
- dramatic changes to their appearance
- staying out all night, going missing from home or running away
- skipping school
- coming home with money, clothes or a mobile phone they couldn’t afford themselves
- new relationships with older men or women
- getting involved with drugs and alcohol
- distancing themselves from family and friends of their own age
- getting phone calls or text messages from unknown adults
- unexplained injuries consistent with sexual or physical assault
If you’re worried a child you know may be suffering abuse or neglect, contact us immediately. Reports can be made anonymously and every report will be investigated.
Advice for parents and guardians
Be aware of the warning signs and:
- talk to your children about what makes a healthy relationship and how to stay safe
- encourage your child talk openly with you about anything that’s bothering them
- be vigilant for changes in your child’s behaviour and emotional state
- don’t judge or get angry, let your child know you’re there to listen, support and help
Advice for professionals
Professionals are often the first to spot issues early on, so it’s important you:
- learn more about CSE and the signs to look out for
- stay alert to changes in behaviour and physical signs of abuse
- find opportunities to teach young people about healthy relationships and CSE
- think about how to support and help young people share information if they are worried about themselves or a friend
- make sure you know the procedure to follow if you are concerned about a young person
- always share any information or concerns you have with your workplace’s child protection lead
Further advice and support
Childline - Information and free, confidential phone counselling for under 19s about sex and relationships.
NSPCC - Help and advice for adults and children who are concerned about the wellbeing of a child they know.
Barnardo’s - Support for children and families who have been affected by CSE.
ThinkUKnow - Easy to understand advice on keeping safe for children aged 5-14+.
Specialist support for young victims of crime and their parents – visit the Victims First website or call on 0300 234 148.