Child sexual exploitation - information for professionals

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is the abuse of children and young people up to the age of 18.

Child sexual exploitation is a crime with devastating and long lasting consequences for its victims and their families. The first response to children, and support for them to access help, must be the best it can be from social workers, police, health practitioners and others who work with children and their families.

Safeguarding procedures must be implemented and a referral made to social care in order to safeguard them from further or future harm.

View the government's child sexual exploitation: definition and guide for practitioners, which defines child sexual exploitation (CSE) as:

'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:

  • in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or
  • 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'.

Many children and young people don't understand that they have been groomed or that what has happened is abuse. There are many types of CSE and there is no typical case; the following are some examples:

Older Boyfriend/Girlfriend

This is typically where a single offender befriends a young person and manipulates them into thinking that they are in a caring relationship in order to sexually exploit them.

Peer on Peer

This can be where young people are tricked, manipulated or forced into sexual activity by people of a similar age. An example of this could be the sharing of indecent images.


Where a young person is groomed and exploited by a member of their own family.


Grooming and sexual exploitation take place completely online with the young person and the offender never meeting. The offender may trick (by pretending to be somebody of the same/similar age) or blackmail the young person into providing sexually explicit images or videos that they then use for their own sexual gratification or distribute to others.


Groomers may be male or female, they could be any age, it may by a stranger or someone they know - for example a family member, friend or professional and may appear very affectionate and generous towards their victim. They may also use blackmail, threats and violence. It can involve more than one offender, it can involve the trafficking of young people and it can happen online or via messaging services, when it can be known as 'sexting'.

Abuse of authority

So somebody in a position of authority over the young person uses that position to trick, manipulate, threaten or blackmail them in order to sexually exploit them.


Where a group of people working together to identify, groom and sexually exploit young people − often trafficking them around different geographical locations. Young people are forced to have sex with multiple men and they can be used to recruit others into the network.


Sexual exploitation can also be used as a form of punishment or as an initiation into a street gang. Assaults may be filmed and used to blackmail and control gang members

Section 67 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 inserts a new offence into the Sexual Offences Act 2003, at section 15A, criminalising sexual communication with a child. The offence carries a maximum 2 year prison sentence. This came into effect on 3 April 2017 and will not be retrospective, and will apply in England and Wales.

These changes will mean that:

  • A person aged 18 or over commits an offence if they intentionally communicate with a child under 16, who the adult does not reasonably believe to be 16 or over, if the communication is sexual or if it is intended to encourage the child to make a communication which is sexual.

  • The offence will be committed whether or not the child communicates with the adult.

  • The offence will apply only where the defendant can be shown to have acted for the purposes of obtaining sexual gratification.

As a professional working with children and young people, you may have the opportunity to identify issues so it is important to familiarise yourself with the signs that a young person is being exploited, and to share this information with your colleagues or professionals in other agencies.

Please view the latest CSE Bulletins which are attached to this page.

Exploitation through criminal activity - Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE)

'County Lines' involves child criminal exploitation (CCE) as gangs use children and vulnerable people to move drugs and money. County lines is the police term for urban gangs supplying drugs to suburban areas and market and coastal towns using dedicated mobile phone lines or deal lines. County lines is a major, cross-cutting issue involving drugs, violence, gangs, safeguarding, criminal and sexual exploitation, modern slavery, and missing persons; and the response to tackle it involves the police, the National Crime Agency, a wide range of Government departments, local government agencies and VCS (voluntary and community sector) organisations.

Please see the guidance attached to this page for frontline professionals on dealing with county lines, part of the government's approach to ending gang violence and exploitation below and the latest report from the National Crime Agency.

Signs of CSE

There are a number of signs that could indicate a child or young person is being groomed for sexual exploitation.

Sexual exploitation can be very difficult to identify. Warning signs can easily be mistaken for 'normal' teenage behaviour.

Young people who are being sexually exploited may:

  • go missing from home, care or education.
  • be involved in abusive relationships, intimidated and fearful of certain people or situations
  • hang out with groups of older people, or antisocial groups, or with other vulnerable peers
  • associate with other young people involved in sexual exploitation
  • get involved in gangs, gang fights, gang membership
  • have older boyfriends or girlfriends
  • spend time at places of concern, such as hotels or known brothels
  • not know where they are, because they have been moved around the country
  • be involved in petty crime such as shoplifting
  • have unexplained physical injuries
  • have a changed physical appearance, for example - weight loss.

For more information and guidance, please view the following safeguarding procedures:

Children's Social Care should been involved in the assessment of all children who are considered to be at medium or high risk of exploitation as outlined in the Risk Assessment Toolkit (see the CSE guidance and toolkit).

Children at Risk of Exploitation (CRE) is assessed by Children's Social Care, under Section 17 Child in Need or Section 47, Child Protection of the Children Act 1989.

Derbyshire Constabulary's Operation Liberty form can be used to report any information or intelligence which relates to CSE to Derbyshire Police.  The Operation Liberty form can be downloaded from our documents library. Please note, that this form is not to be used to make a referral.

Support from other organisations

The college of policing has  sexting briefing document that contains a useful understanding of how the police will respond when a report is made to them.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003, includes the offence of sexual grooming. But action can only be taken by authorities where it can be proved an adult intended to meet a child. Increasingly, online abusers have no intention of meeting the child physically. They may, for example, persuade a child to perform sexual acts via a webcam.

National Working Group (NWG) is a charitable UK-wide organisation set up to address the issues of the exploitation of children.

At NWG our partner agencies, including schools and children's homes, have Gold Membership which enables them to login to the NWG website and access their resources.

Please contact NWG to be given a unique username and password, mentioning that you are one of our partner agencies.

tel: 01332 585371

The NSPCC offers help, support and guidance for parents, carers, professionals and young people. They have also produced a list of the  signs symptoms and effects of child sexual exploitation.

Barnardos has a really useful section on Introduction to CSE.

They also have advice for parents, professionals and young people on how to spot the signs of sexual exploitation. It includes a handy video helps identify the tell-tale signs of abuse.

Barnardos Wud u app for professionals and carers aims to uses interactive stories to educate young people about behaviour that could put them at risk of being sexually exploited.

Safe and Sound provide support directly to children, young people and families in Derby and Derbyshire affected by the abuse and work to ensure that individuals receive the support they need to move forwards in their lives.

tel: 01332 362120

BAASH and Brook have developed a child sexual exploitation (CSE) proforma, spotting the signs, to help health professionals across the UK identify young people attending sexual health services who may be at risk of or experiencing sexual exploitation.