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Child sexual exploitation

Child Sexual Exploitation (or CSE as it is often referred to) is a form of sexual abuse that involves the manipulation and/or coercion of young people under the age of 18 into sexual activity. This may take place in person or online. A young person might even be encouraged to take part by someone in their peer group who may already be a victim.

A common feature of Child Sexual Exploitation is that those who are victims will not see themselves as such, sometimes because they feel they are in a grown up relationship. They may be given gifts by a perpetrator to encourage them into activity; this could be money, phones or clothes, as well as alcohol or drugs. Initially the 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 particular areas, backgrounds, genders or sexual orientation, but children who are already vulnerable may be more likely to be targeted.

According to the NSPCC, there is evidence that young people are more vulnerable if they are/have:

  • History of abuse
  • Living in care/a recent care leaver
  • Homelessness
  • In a gang
  • Disabled children; especially if they struggle to understand what abuse is or cannot tell anybody

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How does Child Sexual Exploitation 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. The perpetrator may encourage the young person to take part in activities including:

  • Sexting
  • Performing sexual acts via webcams
  • Posting nude photographs of themselves online
  • Viewing inappropriate content online
  • To meet up with the perpetrator in real life

When a young person feels that they no longer want to communicate with this person, the perpetrator might threaten to share 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.

What are some of the signs of Child Sexual Exploitation?

  • Truanting from school, coming home late/going missing or staying out all night without explanation.
  • A sudden change in 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 having personal items that they are unable or unwilling to say from where/who.
  • Associating with older people or a new peer group and perhaps being seen in their cars. Having, or starting a relationship with a much older boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • Drug or alcohol misuse and being in trouble for committing criminal offences.
  • Suffering from a sexually transmitted disease, or having several pregnancies or terminations.
  • 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.

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How can you help your child to keep themselves safe from Child Sexual Exploitation?

  • Talk to your child about the importance of consent, and what it means to be in a healthy relationship.
  • Encourage your child to follow their instincts; when they get a sense of unease about a new friend or situation, they will know to trust this feeling and avoid that person.
  • Warn them to not trust people they don't know, either in person or online, even if they seem friendly.
  • Make sure your child understands to 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, consider seeking help from a parenting course or counsellor so that you can 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.
  • You can use Net Aware to stay informed 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.

Help and advice for parents/carers

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.