Child sexual exploitation (CSE)

Child Sexual Exploitation, or CSE as it is known, is one of the most pressing concerns for society in general. Everyone involved in fostering children and young people, needs to be fully aware of the issues involved.
CSE is what takes place when abusers encourage children and young people under the age of 18 into relationships, or situations that are sexually exploitative.

How children/young people become vulnerable

In reward for engaging in sexual activities, a young person may be offered a variety of things. These can include: accommodation, food, drugs, gifts or money. Initially, simple affection may be offered as abusers try to select children who might be feeling vulnerable and uncared for. All children can be potential victims regardless of their family background. This can also include young men and women.

There are some particularly vulnerable groups: children and young people who have a history of running away or of going missing from home; those with special needs, those in and leaving residential and foster care, migrant children, unaccompanied asylum seeking children, children who have disengaged from education and children who are abusing drugs and alcohol. Youngsters involved in gangs can also be particularly vulnerable.

The risks posed by technology

Technology has grown increasingly significant in relation to the danger of CSE. Children find it hard to recognize the risks; requests, initially, can be low level – such as being asked to send ordinary pictures followed gradually by requests for intimate pictures. Being groomed online can also involve intimidation and coercion – often with the direct, or implied threat of violence.

Perpetrators will seek out young people who are vulnerable, often with limited life choices. The relationship is one where the abuser always retains power over the abused: this has the effect of increasing the dependence of the victim.

Sexual exploitation can arise in different forms: the relationship may begin with a feeling it consensual. Sex may be exchanged for a range of different things such as affection, accommodation, gifts or simple attention. Threats and blackmail may then be used if perpetrators want to involve young people in organised crime such as drugs. Social media, together with developing technology, such as tablets and smart phones has given rise to increasing levels of concern

Cyber bullying and CSE

Cyber bullying is widespread on the internet with most young people having some experience of it - or observing it. In a recent national bullying survey, 56% of young people said they have seen others be bullied online and 42% have felt unsafe online.

Cyber bullying bound up with CSE is increasingly prevalent : young children can be accessed through technology which they use when they cannot be monitored, as they would be at home. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre state that the bulk of child sexual exploitation offences now take place online. They have found that the group comprising most victims are children aged between 13 and 14, but young women and young men can also fall victim.

In trying to determine how many young people are affected, there are no precise figures available: cases in recent years do provide some indication as to the potential scale of the problem. One leading example was The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham published in 2014. This estimated that 1,400 children were sexually exploited between 1997 and 2013. There is no typical Perpetrator, they may be: any ethnicity, any gender, an adult or another young person. They may be very ‘visible’ professional people you would not associate remotely with such activity. What they are all likely to have in common is a persuasive, articulate and plausible manner. Not all perpetrators will use money or presents to coerce young people. For anyone connected with fostering, this is an area of constant concern: last year Ofsted reported a 36% rise in children missing from foster care. When this happens the worry will always be that abuse may be involved or be about to take place. Some young people might already have been the victims of CSE before becoming looked after children.

Possible indicators that CSE may be taking place

There are some tell tale signs that a child/young person may be have fallen victim. Relating to general health these can be:

  • sexually risky behaviour;
  • sexually precocious language;
  • physical symptoms (bruising can indicate physical/sexual assault);
  • fatigue/listless behaviour;
  • recurring STD’s (sexually transmitted diseases);
  • pregnancy, or seeking pregnancy advice;
  • indications of drug, alcohol or substance misuse
  • Relating to education:
    • truancy;
    • changes in educational performance;
    • volatile behaviour, mood swings;
    • abusive language;
    • sexualised language.

Other possible indicators that CSE may be taking place

When considering a child/young person’s general/emotional behaviour, the following can also be indicators of CSE:

  • secretive behaviour;
  • involvement in petty crime;
  • being seen with unknown adults;
  • erratic timekeeping;
  • poor self image and low self esteem;
  • self harming behaviour, overdosing, cutting, eating disorders

Promiscuous behaviour that may indicate CSE

A child/young person at risk of CSE may engage in promiscuous behaviour - key signal may be:

  • associating with others known to be sexually active;
  • disengagement from the usual peer group and age-appropriate activities;
  • sexual relationship with an older person;
  • sexual relationship with a younger person - a known victim of abuse;
being observed in places where sexual activity is known to take place; going missing repeatedly for prolonged periods A child/young person at risk of CSE may engage in promiscuous behaviour - key signal may be: having sums of money without an adequate explanation; new clothes, smarter appearance without an explanation of where the money came from; having keys that are unfamiliar; staying out all night; possession of expensive items - perhaps mobile phones and jewellery.

Steps foster carers can take to protect young people

Children and young people should be told that it is never safe to arrange to meet someone they have only met online – unless they take an adult with them.

In the home environment, a carer can place access restrictions on computers, laptops and phones that have an internet connection. There is more information on this at -

It is important to make children aware; if they are worried, that they can talk to adults they know – such as teachers. They should also be told they can get anonymous support by calling Childline on 08001111 or Get Connected on 0808 808 4994 (text 80849).

Always listen to what a child or young person says and take it seriously.

If you have suspicions that a child or young person in your care may be being groomed, report your concerns to the National Crime Agency:

Summary and how to help victims of CSE

Abuse can have many long term effects. These can show in a range of psychological and behavioural problems. As mentioned, depression and low self esteem may result. Eating disorders, continuing sexualised behaviour and substance misuse can also occur.

It has been estimated that 36% of girls and 29% of boys could be affected by CSE.

Significantly, one study discovered that around three-quarters of children who had been the victims of sexual abuse, were unable to report the abuse at the time it was happening. A further third still had not reported their experience when they reached early adulthood. It is important to let children know they can communicate anything without fear of judgement:

that they can feel safe in reporting what is happening to them.

They should know also that they are not alone, and this is a problem that affects a great many young people in society. This can help deal with the sense of guilt and isolation perpetrators exploit. If you have concerns, the social worker responsible for the child/young person’s case should be informed immediately. The following links provide further information and guidance.

Call now 0330 311 2845 or 020 8427 3355