Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)


Child sexual exploitation – or CSE – can cover many things. It is a form of sexual abuse that targets anyone under the age of 16. It can involve forcing young people to perform sexual activities. But it can also appear consensual. Sometimes young people can be in a relationship where they are encouraged to perform sexual acts. Although they might think it’s what they want often they are being manipulated and controlled.

Abusers may offer gifts, money, affection, food or drugs in exchange for sexual activities.

CSE can also happen online. Online grooming through social media, online games and chatrooms is one danger. Things like sexting – sending rude or naked photos to someone – are also considered CSE.

Any child can be sexually exploited. It can happen to boys or girls, children from any background and of any sexuality. However some children are at greater risk. Young people who are homeless, in care, a young carer, have recently suffered a bereavement, or have low self esteem are more likely to be targeted.

Young people might be threatened or intimidated into performing sexual activities. Sometimes abusers also use violence.

There are different types of CSE. Sometimes it involves just one abuser and other times it can involve many abusers.

Inappropriate relationships involve just one perpetrator. This person will be in a position of power over the young person and is usually older. They will use their power to get the young person to engage in sexual activity with them.

The boyfriend model is where someone who is usually much older convinces a young person they are in a loving relationship. They will befriend and groom that young person playing on the areas they feel vulnerable. They may force the young person into sexual acts or convince them it’s a good idea. The perpetrator may also use their power to force the young person to engage in sexual activities with their associates.

Organised sexual exploitation can involve trafficking. This is where young people are exploited through a network. They can be moved to different places. The young people are often forced into sexual activity with a number of people.

Sexual bullying can happen among peers. It is when a young person is sexually exploited by someone their own age. It can include sexual harassment and may be carried out by a group as well as an individual. It can involve inappropriate touching, someone kissing you when you don’t want them to, or saying inappropriate and sexual things to you.    

Gang or group exploitation can be another form of CSE. Sometimes sexual exploitation can happen as an initiation into a group or gang. It can also be used as a punishment. 

What are the signs of CSE and grooming?

It can be difficult to identify CSE. Often the signs can be mistaken for normal teenage behaviour. Things to look out for include: Sudden changes in behaviour. This could include becoming withdrawn, aggressive, depressed or clingy Having mood swings Skipping school or disrupting lessons Coming home with gifts or items that they are unable to explain Obsessive behaviour Problems sleeping, including having nightmares Developing an eating disorder Drinking alcohol or taking drugs Showing sexual behaviour inappropriate for their age.

There may also be physical signs of the abuse. These can include signs of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and other injuries like bruising. Girls can become pregnant.

Young people who are being groomed can be very secretive about where they go and what they are doing. They might also go to unusual places to meet friends.

What should I do if I’m in a relationship I’m not comfortable with?

The most important thing is to talk to someone and get help. You can get caught up in a relationship but no one should ever make you do something you don’t want to. If you don’t feel happy always say no. If someone forces you to do anything sexual you need to tell someone.

It’s natural to be scared of talking about it. You might feel embarrassed or angry. But you need to get help. Tell a trusted adult what has happened. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone you know call a helpline like Childline. Their counsellors can give you advice and support.

I don’t know how to tell someone about what’s happened to me. What can I do?

If you have been sexually exploited it can be very scary and confusing. You might blame yourself. You may feel depressed, angry or ashamed. The important thing is to get help as soon as you can.

Talking about sexual abuse can be very difficult. When you are ready to talk choose someone you trust. Pick a time when you know you won’t be disturbed. It can help to write down what’s happened. If you can’t bring yourself to say it you could give the person you trust a letter about what you’ve experienced.

You should never blame yourself. It isn’t your fault. If you are too scared to tell an adult by yourself confide in a close friend first. They can give you some support and even go with you when you talk to someone who can help.

I’m worried about my friend. What should I do?

If you are worried about a relationship that one of your friends is in you should talk to them about it. They might be scared to open up so let them know you are there to support them. If they do talk to you encourage them to talk to an adult you trust.

In some cases your friend may not realise what is happening. If you are worried about them and don’t know what to do you can always call a helpline like Childline. Their counsellors will be able to give you advice. You could also talk to an adult you trust about what’s going on.

How can I stay safe online?

Online grooming is a serious problem. When you’re talking to someone over the internet you have no way of knowing who they really are. It is very easy for people to pretend to be someone they’re not.

When you are talking to someone online who you don’t know in person – like a friend from school – be very careful about what you tell them. Think carefully before you share any personal information. You should also avoid sharing any photos. This is especially true if they ask for naked or sexual images of you. Remember that once you upload an image online it can appear anywhere.

If you decide you want to meet someone you’ve been talking to online never go alone. Take someone with you. It’s a good idea to take a parent if you can. Make sure you tell people where you are going and how long you will be especially if you go with a friend. Make sure your phone is charged and has credit on it too.

Did you know?

-1 in 5 indecent images of children shared online were taken by the child themselves

-2,049 children were sexually exploited between August 2010 and October 2011

-13 and 14 year olds are most at risk of online grooming


Help & Support

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