Child sexual exploitation

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is a type of sexual abuse that involves manipulating, persuading or threatening young people under 18 into sexual activity. This can take place in person and online, a young person might even be encouraged to take part by a friend who may already be a victim.

Young people don't always see themselves as victims of Child Sexual Exploitation because they feel they are in a grown up relationship. They may be encouraged into activity with gifts like money, phones, clothes, as well as alcohol or drugs. A young person might feel like they are in control of the situation, but blackmail, violence and intimidation will often be used to force them to continue to take part in sexual activities.

Who is at risk?

Child Sexual Exploitation is not limited to sex and gender, background or a particular area, but children who are already vulnerable may be more likely to be targeted.

The The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) say there is evidence that young people are more vulnerable if they are/have:

  • History of abuse
  • In care/a recent care leaver
  • Homeless
  • In a gang
  • Disabled, especially if they struggle to understand what abuse is or cannot tell anybody

How does it happen online?

Sometimes young people are exploited by a person they've never met in real life, or only met briefly. Child Sexual Exploitation can take place through online grooming on chat rooms, social media and online gaming. A young person may be encouraged to take part in activities including:

  • Sexting
  • Performing sexual acts via webcams
  • Posting nude photographs of themselves online
  • Viewing inappropriate content online
  • Meeting up with the person exploiting them

Someone grooming or exploiting a young person will often use threats or blackmail to maintain contact. These threats can include sharing sexual images of the young person with their family, friends or wider community. Childline has advice for young people who have sent pictures and are worried about what might happen to them next.

Childline also offers step-by-step practical instructions on how to have a nude image or video of an under-18 year old removed from the internet.

What are the signs that it may be happening?

  • Not going to school, coming home late/going missing, staying out all night without explanation.
  • A sudden change in their appearance or dressing/behaving in an overly sexualised way.
  • Becoming secretive, unwilling to communicate with, or isolating themselves from family, friends and professionals.
  • Having money, receiving gifts or personal items.
  • Associating with older people or a new group and perhaps being seen in their cars. Having, or starting a relationship with a much older person.
  • Drug or alcohol misuse and being in trouble for committing criminal offences.
  • For further signs, see Surrey Police - Child Sexual Exploitation.

Some of these behaviours may have other explanations but if you are concerned, or your child is displaying several of these signs it is important to seek help or advice.

How to help your child stay safe

  • Talk about the importance of consent and what it means to be in a healthy relationship.
  • Encourage them to trust their feelings if they get a sense of unease about a new friend or situation.
  • Warn them not to trust people they don't know, either in person or online, even if they seem friendly.
  • Make sure your child knows they should never give strangers their personal details or arrange to meet them. Personal details include full name, home address and what school they go to.
  • If you have difficulty talking with your child a parenting course or counsellor maybe be able to help you to develop an open relationship with each other.
  • Reassure your child that you are there for them no matter what, and it's not their fault if they have been exploited.
  • The NSPCC has information about the social media sites your child uses, and how each one operates.
  • Make sure your child understands privacy settings and check if they can block people from contacting them.
  • If they are concerned about themselves or a friend let them know who they can tell. This should include you, another family member, a professional involved with them or to contact Childline on 0800 1111 or the NSPCC helpline.

Where to find help and advice

If you think a child is in immediate danger call the Police on 999. If you're worried but you don't think the child is in immediate danger, call Surrey Police on 101.

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