Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

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Child sexual exploitation is a complex form of abuse and it can be difficult for those working with children to identify and assess. The indicators for child sexual exploitation can sometimes be mistaken for ‘normal adolescent behaviours’. It requires knowledge, skills, professional curiosity and an assessment which analyses the risk factors and personal circumstances of individual children to ensure that the signs and symptoms are interpreted correctly and appropriate support is given.


Government guidance, published in February 2017, defines Child Sexual Exploitation as:

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.

Practitioners working with children should familiarise themselves with Section A of this guidance.


Potential risk indicators include:

  • Acquisition of money, clothes, mobile phones etc. without plausible explanation;

  • Gang-association and/or isolation from peers/social networks;

  • Exclusion or unexplained absences from school, college or work;

  • Leaving home/care without explanation and persistently going missing or returning late;

  • Excessive receipt of texts/phone calls;

  • Returning home under the influence of drugs/alcohol;

  • Inappropriate sexualised behaviour for age/sexually transmitted infections;

  • Evidence of/suspicions of physical or sexual assault;

  • Relationships with controlling or significantly older individuals or groups;

  • Multiple callers (unknown adults or peers);

  • Frequenting areas known for sex work;

  • Concerning use of internet or other social media;

  • Increasing secretiveness around behaviours; and

  • Self-harm or significant changes in emotional well-being.


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