Child Sexual Exploitation


Child sexual exploitation is a form of sexual abuse, in which a child or young person is manipulated or forced into taking part in a sexual act. The abuser may physically or verbally threaten or be violent towards them. They will manipulate, groom and try to isolate the child/young person from friends and family. The abuser may control a child or young person through physical or psychological means or through the use of drugs for a sexual purpose.

The child or young person may think that their abuser is their friend, or even their boyfriend or girlfriend. Children and young people may be moved within the UK, also referred to as child trafficking, or trafficked into the UK from other countries for the purpose of sexually abusing them. Child sexual abuse through exploitation can include the grooming of children and young people online for the purpose of sexually abusing them. This might involve:

  • An adult pretending to be a child, befriending the child/young person through online chat rooms, social networking websites, email etc.

  • Asking children/young people to participate in non-contact sexual activities such as engaging in sexual conversations online or through a telephone.

  • Asking children/young people to take and share indecent images of themselves online or through a mobile phone.

  • Asking children/young people to display sexualised behaviours or perform sexual acts that are recorded or shared live via webcam.

  • The creation, storage and distribution of child abuse images, also referred to as child pornography.

  • Arranging to meet a child/young person face to face for the purpose of sexually abusing them.


Who is affected by child sexual exploitation?

This type of abuse could happen to any child or young person from any background.

It happens to boys and young men as well as girls and young women. They could be looked after, leaving residential or foster care, migrant or unaccompanied asylum seeking children or young people.

They may have experienced previous forms of abuse and may be involved in gangs. The victims of abuse are not at fault; abusers are very clever in the way they manipulate, groom and take advantage of the children and young people they abuse.


What are the signs of child sexual exploitation?

  • Regularly missing school or not taking part in education. 

  • Staying out at night, regularly returning home late and/or returning home after long intervals and appearing well cared for.

  • Defensive about where they have been and what they have been doing.

  • Appears with unexplained gifts or new possessions, money, mobile phones, clothes, jewellery etc.

  • Suffers from sexually transmitted infections.

  • Mood swings.

  • Changes in emotional wellbeing, use of language or physical appearance.

  • Displays inappropriate sexualised behaviour.

  • Is secretive or withdrawn.

  • Looks tired, ill or sleeps during the day.

  • Associating with older men and/or developing a relationship of a sexual nature with a significantly older man or woman.

  • Uses drugs and/or alcohol.

  • Receiving more phone calls or text messages than usual.


Further Information and Advice