Child Sexual Exploitation

Can you spot the signs of child sexual exploitation?

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.

Children and young people who are sexually exploited and/or trafficked can be heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, they can be female, male or transgender.

Many of those who are victimised may be reluctant to disclose this or seek support, often due to stigma, prejudice or embarrassment or the fear that they will not be believed. They may see themselves as able to protect themselves but in cases of exploitation, physical stature or size is irrelevant due to the coercion and manipulation used.

Despite media focus, the majority of those who are victimised are not ‘looked after’ children.

It is estimated that only 20-25% of victimised children and young people are in the care system. Children and young people living at home can be just as vulnerable, if not more vulnerable as they may not be known to social services and therefore are less likely to be identified as at risk of child sexual exploitation.

Young people are groomed and sexually exploited in many different forms. This could be online, through street gangs, in religious environments or by those in positions of authority including celebrities. The common theme in all cases is the imbalance of power and the control exerted on young people by the exploiter/perpetrator.

Those children and young people who are being victimised may appear to be willing parties, however this should be seen in the context of the control exerted by the perpetrator and the submission of the child/young person to them.

Evidence shows that child sexual exploitation can and does happen in all parts of our country. It is not restricted to urban areas such as large towns and cities but happens in rural areas like villages and coastal areas too.

Child sexual exploitation has many guises. Below are just a few examples that you may see. Click on the links for more information….

Sexual Exploitation of Boys and Young Men*

Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking*

Sexual Exploitation and Families*

Sexual Exploitation and Missing*

*Information courtesy of

Spot the Warning Signs

Children can be groomed and exploited in different ways.

It may be difficult for parents, carers and frontline professionals to differentiate between ordinary teenage behaviour and the risk of, or involvement in, sexual exploitation but there are some signs that may indicate that children or young people are being groomed for sexual exploitation or actually being sexually exploited.

Take a look at these signs, how many do you recognise?

Can you spot the abuser?

The truth is, you can’t. Research into this type of exploitation shows that there is not one type of abuser.

Perpetrators of child sexual exploitation can be male or female, come from any ethnic background and be any age. They may have a low social and/or economic status or they could be a wealthy individual in a considerable position of authority. 

By raising awareness of child sexual exploitation we hope that more people will think, spot and speak out against abuse. 

Where to get help

Speak to a Police Officer: If you think someone is in immediate danger call 999. To talk something through with one of our specialist officers, call 101.

Missing People Help Line: Missing People is the only charity in the UK which specialises in and is dedicated to, bringing missing children and adults back together with their families. Visit the Missing People website  or call freephone 116 000.

CEOP… Think U Know: The latest information on website safety and how to stay safe on-line.

If you look after young people there’s an area for you too – with resources you can use in the classroom or at home. Most importantly, there’s also a place which anyone can use to report if they feel uncomfortable or worried about someone they are chatting to online. 

Childline: A confidential 24 hour free telephone helpline. It provides emotional support for children and young people on issues relating to child abuse, bullying etc. Call Freephone: 0800 1111 or visit Childline