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.

What is it?

Child sexual exploitation is a form of abuse, which is helpful to think of a course of conduct rather than an isolated incident as it involves a ‘relationship’. However the relationship is based on a deliberate imbalance of power.

The relationship can take several forms and can follow a pattern:

  1. Befriending – where contact is made with a child/young person and then the initial contact introduces the child/young person to one or more older men who pose as friends, cousins, relatives of the initial contact. In this stage the child/young person is groomed into a situation which they come to think is ok but is actually harmful to them. Gifts, alcohol, cigarettes etc can be bestowed upon them. In this stage the child/young person may interpret the behaviour demonstrated towards them by an individual as ‘love’.
  2. Control – in this stage the abuser expects a return on the gifts they have bestowed and will involve sexual favours and the abuser will make threats to gain control over the child/young person. This may involve threats of violence, threats to family members, photographing the child/young person performing sexual activities and threatening to publicise them, involving the child/young person in criminal activities and threatening to report them to the police.
  3. Exploitation – in this stage the abuser builds the alienation the child/young person can experience, distancing them from friends, parents and other support. This leads the child/young person further into the abuse. In this phase the exploitation includes the child earning money to support their need/pay back the gifts and pay back the perpetrators of the abuse.

The child/young person will be significantly affected by this and may not recognise what is happening to them as abuse, or may feel that it is their fault.

Points of contact can be home, school, shopping centres, entertainment arcades, leisure clubs, taxi ranks, bus and train stations and online.

Inappropriate relationships and or boyfriend model

The abuser has power which is either physical, emotional or financial, or control over a young person. The young person may believe they are in a genuine friendship or relationship with the abuser. The abuse can exist in isolation in that the individual perpetrates the abuse or can involve the young person being introduced and abused by other people. The ‘boyfriend’ grooms the victim by striking up a seemingly loving relationship with them, giving them gifts and going out. Victims may be required to attend parties and have sex with multiple men, threatened with violence either to themselves or their loved ones if they don’t. They may also be made to introduce their friends as new victims.


Technology is widely used by perpetrators as a method of grooming and coercing victims, often through social networking sites and mobile devices (Jago et al, 2011). The abuser grooms the child/young person on line. They may pose as another young person of a similar age or an adult. The abuser may talk to the child via a web cam striking up a relationship, progressing to getting the child/young person to pose or send images of themselves which may progress to naked or semi naked images. These images will be stored and shared with other child abusers. The abuser may then start to pressurise the child/young person and blackmail them by threatening to tell parents or share images. This form of abuse usually occurs in private, or in semi-public places such as parks, cinemas, cafes and hotels. It is increasingly occurring at ‘parties’ organised by perpetrators for the purposes of giving victims drugs and alcohol before sexually abusing them (Barnardo’s, 2012)

Organised exploitation, gangs and trafficking

Young people can associate with gangs and as a result of their involvement can become involved in offending behaviour and/or sexual exploitation. Sexual violence against females in a gang environment can occur in the following:

  1. Sexually assaulting a young woman associated with a rival gang to disrespect or provoke the gang
  2. Getting females to use their sexuality to set up rival gang males
  3. Sexual assault as a threat or weapon
  4. Sexual assault/abuse as a means of initiation into a gang

Other forms of criminality can occur where victims are trafficked through criminal networks, and forced or coerced into sex with multiple men including groups of men. This is serious organised activity.

Q: Does child sexual exploitation only happen in certain ethnic or cultural communities?

A: Offenders and victims come from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, this crime is not restricted to a specific group.

Q: Only children in care are affected?

A: A majority of victims live at home. Looked after children, account for a number of victims and can be particularly vulnerable.

Q: Only girls and women are affected

A: Boys, young men, girls and women are all targeted by CSE offenders. Male victims may be less likely to report incidents due to stigma, prejudice or embarrassment.

Q: Only men commit CSE crimes

A: Evidence shows that women can be offenders of this crime. They use different grooming methods but target both boys and girls.

Q: This only happens to young teenagers by young men?

A: Peer–on–peer child sexual exploitation happens too, and this can take many forms. For example young people recruit young people at parties – where they are introduced to adults or forced to perform sexual acts.

Q: Parents should know what their child is doing to be able to stop it

A: Parents may be unlikely to be able to identify what is happening. They may suspect something is not right but may not be in a position to stop it due to control, threats or fear.

Keep them safe: an interactive tool

Understand the issue of child sexual exploitation, know the signs and be equipped to act.

Parents against Child Sexual Exploitation (Pace) UK, in partnership with Virtual College, has launched an interactive online information package for parents on the signs of child sexual exploitation. This free tool is designed to equip parents with the information and knowledge to safeguard children from this abuse. Click here for more details

Parents against Child Sexual Exploitation (Pace) UK have produced books for parents of children who are being sexually exploited.

Other guides produced by Parents against Child Sexual Exploitation (Pace) UK can be found at the following link

Child sexual exploitation is very distressing and can be a very difficult form of abuse to recognise.

The following websites offer advice and guidance for parents if they are worried or if their child is suffering this type of abuse:

Pace – parents against child sexual exploitation

CSE training for Parents

Barnardos – what can I do as a parent?

Police – advice, help, report

Childline – information about sexual abuse and how to get help

If you are worried about your child you can talk to the Police on 101 or Children’s Services on 01733 864170.

In an emergency call 999