Signs of Child Sexual Exploitation


The sexual exploitation of children and young people has been identified throughout the UK, in both rural and urban areas, unfortunately, it is prominent in all parts of the world and affects both boys and young men as well as girls and young women.

Sexual exploitation of children and young people involves in large parts exploitative situations, relationships and contexts where a young person may be given “something” for example; drugs, alcohol, money, cigarettes, affection and or other gifts as in order that the young person performs sexual activities. In this modern age and with young people now having access to smartphones and the internet, the possibilities for criminals to target and sexually exploit young people widen. Exploitation via technology may include persuading a young person to share images or video of a sexual nature.

In all cases, those exploiting the young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources. Further disturbingly, violence, coercion and intimidation are commonly used to exploit children and young people. 

There are a number of signs and behaviours that may warn us that a child is being sexually exploited. We’ve listed some of the most obvious signs below:

Lower Level Indicators:

  • Often coming home late or regularly going missing;
  • Dressing in an overtly sexualised manner
  • Sexualised risk taking including on the Internet;
  • Unaccounted for monies or goods, think new clothing;
  • Associating with unknown adults or other sexually exploited children;
  • Reduced contact with family and friends and other support networks;
  • Sexually transmitted infections;
  • Experimenting with drugs and/or alcohol;
  • Poor self-image, eating disorders some self-harm.

Medium Level Indicators - any of the above and ONE or more of these indicators:

  • Getting into vehicles with unknown adults;
  • Associating with known CSE adults;
  • Being groomed on the internet;
  • Clipping- (offering to have sex for money or other payment and then running before sex takes place);
  • Disclosure of a physical assault, then refusing to make or withdrawing a complaint;
  • Being involved in CSE through being seen in hotspots (i.e. Houses, recruiting grounds);
  • Having an older boyfriend/girlfriend;
  • Poor or non-attendance at school attendance or excluded due to behaviour;
  • Staying out overnight with no explanation;
  • Breakdown of residential children placements due to behaviour;
  • Unaccounted for money or goods including mobile phones, drugs and alcohol;
  • Multiple Sexually Transmitted Infections;
  • Self-harming that requires medical treatment;
  • Repeat offending;
  • Gang member or association.

High-Level Indicators - any of the above and ONE or more of these indicators:

  • Child under 13 engaging in penetrative sex with another over 15 years;
  • Pattern of street homelessness and staying with an adult believed to be sexually exploiting them;
  • Child under 16 meeting different adults and exchanging or selling sexual activity;
  • Removed from known ‘red light’ district by professionals due to suspected CSE;
  • Being taken to clubs and hotels by adults and engaging in sexual activity;
  • Disclosure of serious sexual assault and then withdrawal of statement;
  • Abduction and forced imprisonment;
  • Being moved around for sexual activity;
  • Disappearing from the ‘system’ with no contact or support;
  • Being bought / sold / trafficked;
  • Multiple miscarriages or terminations;
  • Indicators of CSE in conjunction with chronic alcohol and drug use;
  • Indicators of CSE alongside serious self-harming;
  • Receiving rewards of money or goods for recruiting peers into CSE.

If you are a professional working alongside a young person who is displaying signs of sexual exploitation, you should immediately inform your line manager who should contact the local authority designated safeguarding officer, ensure you chase up any referral you make.

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