Children at Risk of Exploitation

What is Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)?


The Sexual exploitation of children and young people under 18 involves exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where young people (or a third person or persons) receive 'something' (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of performing and/or others performing on them, sexual activities.

Sexual exploitation can take many forms from the apparently 'consensual' relationships where sex is exchanged for attention/affection, accommodation or gifts, to serious organised crime and child trafficking. What makes it exploitation is an imbalance of power within the relationship. The perpetrator always holds some kind of power over the victim, increasing the dependence of the victim as the exploitative relationship develops.

How do children and young people come to be sexually exploited?

Grooming or targeting

Many children and young people are groomed into sexually exploitative relationships. The perpetrators of sexual exploitation are often well organised and use sophisticated tactics. They are known to target areas where children and young people might gather without much adult supervision such as shopping centres, cafes, takeaways, pubs, sports centres, cinemas, bus or train stations, local parks, playgrounds and taxi ranks, or sites on the internet used by children and young people. The process of grooming may also be visible in adult venues such as pubs and clubs. In some cases perpetrators are known to use younger men, women, boys or girls to build initial relationships and introduce them to others in the perpetrator networks


Others exchange sex for accommodation or money as a result of homelessness and experiences of poverty.


Some young people have been bullied or threatened into sexual activities by peers or gangs which is then used against them as a form of extortion and to keep them compliant.


Child sexual exploitation can occur through use of technology without the child's immediate recognition, for example the persuasion to post sexual images on the internet/mobile phones, with no immediate payment or gain

The exploitative relationship

The manipulation or 'grooming' process involves befriending children and gaining their trust, sometimes over a long period of time, before the abuse begins. The abusive relationship between victim and perpetrator involves an imbalance of power which limits the victim's options, and the relationship is sometimes wrongly perceived by the victim and outsiders as consensual. Although it is true that the victim can be tricked into believing they are in a loving relationship, no child under the age of 18 can ever consent to being abused or exploited (Barnardo's 2012). 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.

Signs and Symptoms of sexual exploitation

Grooming and sexual exploitation can be very difficult to identify. Warning signs can easily be mistaken for 'normal' teenage behaviour and/or development. Parents, carers, school teachers and practitioners are advised to be alert to the following signs and symptoms.

  • Inappropriate sexual or sexualised behaviour
  • Repeat sexually transmitted infections; in girls repeat pregnancy, abortion or miscarriage
  • Having unaffordable new things (e.g. clothes, mobile phones) or expensive habits (e.g. alcohol, drugs)
  • Going to hotels or other unsual locations to meet friends
  • Getting in/out of different cars driven by unknown adults
  • Going missing from home or care
  • Having older boyfriends or girlfriends
  • Associating with other young people involved in sexual exploitation
  • Truancy, exclusion, disengagement with school, opting out of education altogether
  • Unexplained changes in behaviour or personality (chaotic, aggressive, sexual)
  • Drug or alcohol misuse
  • Getting involved in crime
  • Injuries from physical assault, physical restraint, sexual assault

 (Barnardo's 2011, CEOP 2011, Berelowitz et al 2012)

Criminal Exploitation

It is often difficult to split different forms of exploitation.  CARE recognises that a young person ‘plugging’ (anally inserting) substances can carry a sexual element to it, as can residing at property to sell drugs (trap house) and any other methods involved in county lines . Therefore if you have a young person at risk or victim of criminal exploitation and you are unsure whether to refer, please speak to a member of the team to discuss further.

The CARE team have produced some factsheets showing the stages of recruitment in criminal exploitation. These documents are able to be downloaded by professionals for use with the children and young people with whom they work.

2 page version for Young People

4 page version for Young People

There is also a leaflet for professionals which provides some additional information.

Professionals leaflet

Click on each of the images above to download the relevant documents.


If you have any questions about the CARE project, please do not hesitate to contact The Children’s Society East on 01245 493311 and ask to speak to a member of the CARE team.

If you have concerns about a child or young person and sexual exploitation you can contact us on 01245 493311 during office hours, or contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000 24 hrs a day.

Children and young people risk becoming involved in gangs

Independent charity Crimestoppers is highlighting that children and young people across Essex are at risk of becoming involved with gangs and the violence and abuse that often follows.

Many young people join gangs for protection or say that it makes them feel part of a family. It is not only young men. Young women are also recruited and routinely suffer sexual violence to ‘control’ them.

Crimestoppers charity wants to raise awareness of the issue and encourage Essex residents to speak up 100% anonymously to help keep young people safe. Our charity gives people the power to speak up, stay safe and stop crime by calling our professionally-staffed 24-hour UK Contact Centre on 0800 555 111 or by using the untraceable Anonymous Online Form

In a recent report from the Children's Commissioner for England, it was stated that the number of children involved in gangs could be as many 46,000 and may be even higher.

Many young people associated with gangs speak of the dangers of gang membership. They can be transported to other parts of the country to deal drugs and be put into dangerous situations, such as carrying weapons and exposed to violence including knife crime. In Essex, the number of weapons offences last year rose by 50%.

Colin Dobinson, spokesperson for Crimestoppers in Essex, said: “As gangs expand their networks into Essex, they need new members and actively groom vulnerable young people, many from 11 years of age, sometimes even younger, to entice them into working for them. Gangs can start this process at school or parties where innocent children can provide them with potential recruits as they are less likely to have come to the attention of the authorities.

“I would urge parents and young people to visit the Fearless website ( which is a youth service, guided by Crimestoppers that develops effective anti-crime resources and advice for young people and their families. We know that many young people who are not involved in crime in any way may pick up information from school and friends on crime but are too scared to report it. Now Fearless provides them with a safe place to pass this information on – 100% anonymously. Always.

Youth professionals and teachers will also find many useful resources available on the site.

Caroline Wiggins, Chair of the Essex Community Safety Network, said: “Parents must play a key role in alerting their children to the risks. They need to make sure they know what their children are doing, who they are spending time with and look for any signs that their children might be being groomed or involved in gangs. I would certainly encourage parents, their children and anyone working with young people, to visit the Fearless website and access information that will help them prevent further wasted lives and wasted futures”.