Child Sexual Exploitation - Advice, support and how to report

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is an illegal activity where a person exercises some form of power and control over a child in order to sexually abuse them.

Sexual abuse of children involves forcing or enticing a child to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening. The activities may involve physical contact or non-penetrative acts and may also include non-contact activities, e.g. involving children in looking at, or in production of abusive images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways etc. It may also involve grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the Internet).

Sexual exploitation can happen to any child from any background and it affects boys as well as girls. Whilst perpetrators are mostly male, females can also be involved in this abusive activity.

Some children may be more vulnerable to exploitation than others. For example those that are having difficulties at home; are truanting or have been excluded from school; regularly go missing from home or care or those who are living in care (looked after children).

Many victims of child sexual exploitation have been groomed by an abusing adult or sometimes by an older child. Grooming is when the abuser befriends a child and makes them feel special by buying gifts for them or giving them lots of attention. Victims can be targeted in person or online and perpetrators are increasingly using the Internet to protect their identity and traffic abused children around the country to avoid detection.

Children who are victims of this form of sexual abuse often do not recognise they are being exploited. However, there are a number of signs that can indicate a child is being groomed for sexual exploitation:

  • Going missing or regularly returning home late
  • Regularly missing school or not taking part in education
  • Having unexplained gifts or new possessions that they could not have purchased themselves - including things like a mobile phone, cigarettes, alcohol, jewellery and clothes
  • Mixing with other children involved in exploitation
  • Having older boyfriends and girlfriends
  • Appearing to have a completely new friendship group and no longer mixing with previous friendship groups
  • Contracting sexually transmitted infections
  • Mood swings or changes in emotional wellbeing
  • Drug and alcohol misuse
  • Displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviour or displaying sexual knowledge or behaviour that is inappropriate for their age.

Parents and Carers should be alert to the dangers that children face in respect of CSE and should be proactive in discussing risks with their children. They can help reduce the risks their children face by discussing the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships with them and making them aware that CSE is a real issue in our communities.

Parents and Carers can take some practical steps, such as:

  • Being alert to changes in behaviour or any physical signs of abuse, e.g. bruising
  • Be aware of new, unexplained gifts or possessions (see examples above)
  • Carefully monitor any instances of staying out late or not returning home and ask where they have been and who they have been with
  • Be cautious about any older friends your child may have, or relationships with other children where there appears to be a power imbalance
  • Understand the risks associated with your child being online and put measures in place at home to minimise them i.e. parental controls on the PC

Report a concern

If you are concerned about a child

  • If you think a child or young person is at immediate risk you should call Essex Police on 999
  • If you have a non-urgent concern over a child or young person call Essex Police on 101
  • Essex Children's Social Care on 0345 603 7627 (Out of hours 0345 606 1212)
  • NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000
  • If you are a child and would like to speak to someone in confidence you can contact Childline on 0800 1111

Help and support

For more information and advice about safeguarding against Child Sexual Exploitation see the Related Content on this page.