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Child sexual exploitation

Sexual exploitation is a hugely distressing form of abuse of children and young people. It is not confined to sexual abuse, but also includes physical and emotional abuse.

Usually hidden from view, young girls and boys are groomed and then abused, leaving them traumatised. It is a complex issue that covers many situations, including children being exploited online, by gangs, and by adults and their peers. Knowing the signs and being aware of the support available can provide carers, professionals, and friends of those being exploited, the confidence to report.
What is sexual exploitation? 

Child sexual exploitation usually can be defined in the following terms:

  • A Child under 18 is sexually exploited when they are coerced into sexual activities by someone who has deliberately targeted their youth and inexperience in order to exercise power over them.
  • There is a deliberate inequality between the child and the offender(s), with the offender(s) in control.
  • The process often involves a stage of 'grooming', in which the child might receive something (such as a mobile phone, clothes, drugs or alcohol, attention or affection).
  • These gifts are given prior to, or as a result of, performing sexual activities, or having sexual activities performed on them.
  • Child Sexual Exploitation may occur through the use of technology without the child's consent or knowledge, for example, through being persuaded to post sexual images over the internet or through mobile phone images.
  • It is often conducted with violence or the threat of violence towards the child or their family and may prevent the child from disclosing the abuse, or exiting the cycle of exploitation.
  • The child may be so confused by the grooming process, they do not realise they are being abused at all.
Spotting the signs 

Sexual exploitation occurs only after a child has been persuaded that the sexual activities they are involved in are a normal part of adult life, or an exciting opportunity that confirms their maturity and independence.

This means a child can go to great lengths to hide what is going on, whilst the offender will be trying to drive a wedge between the child and those that care for them, or can protect them.

There are warning signs: however, many of these are typical of all teenagers, so need to be treated with caution. We recommend you take further action if a child is exhibiting at least one of the following:

  • Become especially secretive and stop engaging with their usual friends;
  • Be particularly prone to sharp mood swings beyond those common to all adolescents: it is the severity of behavioural change that matters;
  • Associating with, or developing a sexual relationship with older men and/or women. (Although, bear in mind perpetrators could approach the child through a peer who is already being exploited, or via the youngest member of a grooming network);
  • Go missing from home, often returning home late, and be defensive about where they have been and who with;
  • Receive odd calls and messages on their mobiles or social media pages from unknown, possibly much older, people from outside their normal social network;
  • Be in possession of new, expensive items which they couldn't normally afford, such as mobile phones or jewellery;
  • Exhibit a sudden change in dress (often wearing more adult clothing).
  • Look tired and/or unwell, and sleep at unusual hours;
  • Have marks or scars on their body that they try to conceal;
  • Adopt new 'street language' or respond to a new street name.
Who is responsible for CSE?

Perpetrators of child sexual exploitation come from all ages and backgrounds and both sexes, although the majority are men. Children may be sexually exploited by an individual, or by a group of people connected through formal networks (e.g. through trade, business or other community networks) or more informal friendship groups. Children are also sexually exploited by gangs with criminal associations. In these cases, the gang may benefit financially from the sexual exploitation.

If you have concerns

If you think that a child is in immediate danger please dial 999 or you can call West Mercia Police / Warwickshire Police on the non-emergency police number, 101 about a child you think may be at risk.

If you are worried about a young person exhibiting any of the signs above and want to talk through your concerns with trained support workers, please contact the following:

Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation

PACE welcomes contact from professionals, parents and carers. For help and advice call 0113 240 5226 or use the link provided.


If you are a child or young person who needs help or advice, please call Childline on 0800 11 11.


Please call 0808 800 5000 to discuss your concerns with the 24-hour Child Protection Helpline.


The largest provider of child sexual exploitation support services in the UK, its website is a useful resource:

For advice on keeping children safe online, tailored for groups aged five and upwards, please visit the CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection) website, Think U Know:  see attached link.