It can affect any child or young person – regardless of their background, culture, gender, age, or ethnicity.
The official definition of CSE is: “Child sexual exploitation 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 (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) 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.”
Although CSE is child abuse, it is not an offence in its own right. The offences that usually form part of a CSE case include sexual offences, kidnap, torture, assault, and trafficking.
Child sexual abuse online
When sexual exploitation happens online, young people may be persuaded, or forced, to:
- Send or post sexually explicit images of themselves
- Take part in sexual activities via a webcam or smartphone
- Have sexual conversations by text or online
Child sexual exploitation in gangs
Gangs may use sexual exploitation to:
- Exert power and control over members
- Initiate young people into the gang
- Exchange sexual activity for status or protection
- Entrap rival gang members by exploiting girls and young women
- Inflict sexual assault as a weapon in conflict
Signs, indicators and effects
Sexual exploitation can be very difficult to identify. Warning signs can easily be mistaken for 'normal' teenage behaviour.
Young people who are being sexually exploited may possibly:
- Go missing from home, care or education.
- Be involved in abusive relationships, intimidated and fearful of certain people or situations
- Hang out with groups of older people, or antisocial groups, or with other vulnerable peers
- Associate with other young people involved in sexual exploitation
- Get involved in gangs, gang fights, or gang membership
- Have older boyfriends or girlfriends
- Spend time at places of concern, such as hotels or known brothels
- Not know where they are, because they have been moved around the country
- Be involved in petty crime such as shoplifting
- Have unexplained physical injuries
- Have a changed physical appearance, for example lost weight
Sexual abuse: signs and symptoms
Children who are sexually abused may possibly:
- Stay away from certain people
- Avoid being alone with people, such as family members or friends
- Seem frightened of a person or reluctant to socialise with them
- Show sexual behaviour that's inappropriate for their age
- May become sexually active at a young age
- May become promiscuous
- Could use sexual language or know information that you wouldn't expect them to
- Have physical symptoms
- Have anal or vaginal soreness
- Have an unusual discharge
- Contract sexually transmitted infection (STI)
- Get pregnant
Grooming: signs and symptoms
The signs of grooming aren't always obvious. Groomers will also go to great lengths not to be identified.
- Be very secretive, including about what they are doing online
- Have older boyfriends or girlfriends
- Go to unusual places to meet friends
- Have new things such as clothes or mobile phones that they can't or won't explain
- Have access to drugs and alcohol
In older children, signs of grooming can easily be mistaken for 'normal' teenage behaviour, but you may notice unexplained changes in behaviour or personality, or inappropriate sexual behaviour for their age.
Groomers who sexually exploit children online may focus on quickly gaining control over a child rather than spending time building up a trusting relationship. The period of time between contacting a child and offending may be extremely short. (CEOP, 2013)
Freedom From Abuse exists to prevent child sexual abuse through education and training and engaging with parents, carers and all kinds of organisations involved with children to give them the knowledge and skills they need to prevent abuse from happening.