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Child sexual exploitation

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a form of child abuse where a young person under the age of 18 is encouraged, trapped, forced or coerced into a sexual relationship or situation. The abuser may be an adult or another young person; they might have power over them because of age or the groups and people they spend time with.

CSE can take place in person, via phone, text message or online. It often involves the young person being offered something in return for performing sexual acts. This could be alcohol, cigarettes, gifts, money, drugs and affection. Sometimes the abuser will threaten or bully the young person with threats to embarrass them. They may threaten to share photos or other private issues with friends and family.

CSE is never okay and if it’s happening to you or someone close to you there is help out there for you.

Help and support

If you need help or more information about CSE there are people you can speak to.

Childline: If you are under 18 years old, you can call Childline at any time on 0800 1111 to speak to a counsellor. Calls are free and confidential. You can also visit the ChildLine website where they have online chat, email and message boards.

You can also talk to an adult you know and trust; this may be a teacher, a social worker, a family friend, a parent or a friend’s parent.

Report a concern about CSE

Organisations that can help

The following organisations provide support for parents and CSE information:

Other resources
The following organisations can also help. They provide information about issues relating to CSE, including handling relationships online and relationship abuse.

Myths about CSE

There are different ways in which young people can be exploited and sometimes are exploited in more than one way at once. The perpetrators of CSE have often planned and thought through clearly what they are going to do. Have a look at the following myths and facts to help you recognise CSE.

The myth
Child sexual exploitation is very rare and doesn’t happen where we live.

The fact
It is much more widespread than most people imagine. It is often hidden and can only be uncovered by people being vigilant and reporting their concerns. To ignore the signs is to collude in the abuse!

The myth
Child sexual exploitation only happens to girls and young women.

The fact
It can and does happen to boys and young men as well - although the warning-signs that suggest that they are victims are often missed. Boys and young men can also find it more difficult to talk to anybody about what is happening to them.

The myth
Child sexual exploitation only happens to children who are in care, who come from a troubled family, or are of a particular race, religion or economic background.

The fact
Any child can potentially become a victim. Young people are more at risk if they are vulnerable. Vulnerability can manifest itself in many ways, eg naivety is a vulnerability that is easy to exploit.

The myth
Child sexual exploitation only happens to older children.

The fact
The average age that young people are most at risk is between 12 and 15, although it can happen older and it can happen younger.

The myth
A lot of these ‘exploited’ children are over 16 and have consented to sex.

The fact
The sexual exploitation of any young person aged under 18 is child abuse and needs to be stopped, or even better, prevented from happening in the first place. Even if a young person seems to have given consent it is not true consent if they have been manipulated or pressured into giving it.

The myth
Child sexual exploitation only takes one form.

The fact
There are various different forms that CSE can take. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Individual: A single perpetrator may groom and exploit the victim(s)
  • Gang: Exploitation may form part of a gang culture and may be used as an initiation or as a punishment
  • Group: A group of people come together with the explicit aim of grooming and sexually exploiting young people
  • Peer on peer: Exploitation is perpetrated by a person or persons of the same age as the victim
  • Online: Grooming and exploitation take place entirely online. The victim and the perpetrator never meet in real life
  • Abuse of authority: Grooming and exploitation is carried out by somebody with authority over the victim
  • Party: Victims are invited to a party where they may be plied with alcohol or drugs and then sexually exploited

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