Child sexual exploitation (CSE)

Sexual exploitation of children and young people under 18 is defined as involving “exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where young people (or a third person or persons) receive ‘something’ (such as food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of them performing, and/or another or others performing on them, sexual activities (DCSF, 2009).

In all cases, those exploiting the child/young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources. Violence, coercion and intimidation are common, involvement in exploitative relationships being characterised in the main by the child or young person’s limited availability of choice resulting from their social/economic and/or emotional vulnerability (DCSF 2009:9).

Both girls and boys are at risk of sexual exploitation, and it is seriously harmful to children both emotionally and physically. Children and young people often find it very hard to understand or accept that they are being abused through sexual exploitation, and this increases their risk of being exposed to violent assault and life threatening events by those who abuse them.

Signs to look out for include:

  • going missing for periods of time or regularly returning home late
  • frequently staying out late or overnight with no explanation as to where they have been
  • going places that you know they can not afford
  • skipping school or being disruptive in class
  • suddenly acquiring expensive gifts such as mobile phones, jewellery – even drugs – and not being able to explain how they came by them
  • having mood swings and changes in temperament
  • noticeable changes in behaviour – becoming secretive, defensive or aggressive when asked about their personal life
  • wearing inappropriate clothing that is too adult or revealing for their age
  • displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviours, such as over familiarity with strangers, dressing in a sexualised manner or sending sexualised images by mobile phone (‘sexting’)
  • getting into trouble with the police
  • bruises, marks on the body, sexually-transmitted diseases, pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse or self-harm
  • repeated phone calls, letters, emails from adults outside family social circle

Child Criminal Exploitation

There is no current legal definition of Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) and the concept is often not fully understood by services working with those at risk. However, there is agreement that CCE is a form of abuse and victims require a safeguarding – not criminal justice – response. CCE often involves children moving drugs and/or money for Organised Crime Groups (OCGs). The term “County Lines” was coined by police to describe a business model adopted by OGGs in urban areas to cultivate drug markets in smaller towns across the country and control the supply of drugs into these areas (sometimes hundreds of miles away).

A common thread among OCGs who operate county lines is the use of children to move drugs to the destination town and sell the drugs from a base; often a house or flat belonging to a vulnerable person who has been coerced into allowing property to be used by the OCG (known as “cuckooing”). The child is often required to stay in the property until all the drugs have been sold, which could mean days away from home. It is common for children to be forced into placing drugs into bodily cavities and having these packages forcibly removed at the destination. The children who move drugs and money are nearly always groomed by more senior members (“elders”) within OCGs; they are bought high-value items such as designer clothes, trainers or phones and offered a sense of belonging and status. CCE encompasses multiple vulnerabilities; physical, emotional and sexual abuse, neglect, modern day slavery, human trafficking and missing episodes.

Useful links

Child Sexual Exploitation (Guidance from the Berks LSCBs CP Procedures)

Bracknell Forest Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation Strategy 2016

PACE (Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation) provide free online training called Keep Them Safe.

The course is aimed at parents, but safeguarding professionals will also find this e-learning course a valuable source of introductory information on what child sexual exploitation is, the impacts of this abuse on families and how to take action in reporting or stopping sexual exploitation.

Wud U?, developed by Barnardos, is an educational tool for teachers and care professionals who interact with young people that might be at risk of sexual exploitation. The app aims to educate young people about behaviour that could put them at risk of being sexually exploited, through illustrated, interactive stories, and can be downloaded for free from the Windows Store, Google Play & the iPhone store.

Missing Kids UK has advice for practitioners and a list of organisations who can offer advice and support to young people, parents and practitioners.

NSPCC have produced a useful video regarding CSE.

Useful documents

See Publications and Links section for further national publications relating to CSE

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