Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)


Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse that is based on an ongoing exploitative relationship between perpetrator and child. A child or young person under the age of 18 is sexually exploited when they have received ‘something’ (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, gifts, money) in exchange for sex.

Children and young people can be sexually exploited through the use of technology – for example by being persuaded to post sexual images on the internet or via a mobile phone.

Sexually exploitative relationships are characterized by an imbalance of power and the use of controlling behaviors to keep the child or young person in a dependent position.

Read the "Definition of child sexual exploitation, potential vulnerabilities and indicators of abuse and appropriate action to take in response" from the Department for Education - Feb 2017

In contrast to other forms of sexual abuse, children and young people who are sexually exploited may not recognize that they are being abused as they may perceive the perpetrator as giving them something they need or want. This may change overtime as the perpetrator‘s behavior becomes more coercive, but a fear of potential consequences may stop them from disclosing. Both girls and boys can be sexually exploited.

There are different ways in which sexual exploitation may take place such as:

• An Inappropriate relationship, often characterized by a significant tag difference.

• The “boyfriend “model-the young person is groomed to see the person as a boyfriend but is then forced into performing sexual behaviors with others.

• Peer on peer exploitation e.g. as part of the ritual of belonging to a gang.

Legal Framework in England and Wales

There is no specific offence of child exploitation, but the Sexual Offences Act 2003 provides clarity on the protection of children from sexual exploitation as follows:

Children under 13 cannot legally consent to sex (it is statutory rape) or any other type of sexual touching: cases involving children less than 13 years should always be discussed with Children’s Social Care and be reported to the police public protection unit via CRU or out of hour’s police 101.

• Sexual activity with a child under 16 is an offence.

• Provides further information regarding child sex offences committed by children under 18 years.

• It is an offence to arrange or facilitate commission of a child sex offence.

• It is an offence to meet a child following sexual grooming.

• It is an offence for a person to have a sexual relationship with a child or young person (including young people aged 16 or 17 year old) - if they hold a position of trust or authority in relation to them.

• The Sexual Offences Act 2003 covers exploitation of children through prostitution and pornography which includes 16 and 17 year olds.

It is also important to remember that:

Non consensual sex is rape whatever the age of the victim; and If the victim is incapacitated through drink or drugs, or the victim or his or her family had been subject to violence or threat of it, they cannot be considered to have given true consent and therefore offences may have been committed.

Identification of CSE

Children and young people who are sexually exploited can present across a range of health settings in a variety of ways: poor self-care, injuries, sexually transmitted infections, contraception pregnancy, termination, drug and alcohol problems, mental health problems, self-harming behaviors, problem behaviors, problems in relationships. They may not recognize that they are being sexually exploited. Health professionals may also be in a position to identify concerns about adults who may be perpetrators of sexual exploitation. 

Click here for more information regarding Vulnerability Factors for CSE

Whilst generally more females than males suffer from CSE and the average age when concerns are first identified is 13-15 years old, it can cross all boundaries of race, gender, age and social background. However particular life experiences associated with increased risk of CSE are:

Family dysfunction
Prior (sexual) abuse or neglect
Going missing/0running away
Substance misuse
Disengagement from education
Social isolation
Low self esteem
Socio-economic disadvantage
Leaning difficulties/disabilities
Peers who are sexually exploited
Attachment issues
Looked after child

Possible warning signs of CSE
Missing from home or care
Physical injuries
Drug or alcohol use
Involvement in offending
Repeated STI’s, pregnancies and termination
Absent form school
Change in physical appearance
Evidence of sexual bullying/vulnerability through the internet and /or social network sites
Estranged from family
Receipt of gifts from unknown sources
Recruiting others into exploitative situations
Poor mental health
Self harm or thoughts of or attempts at suicide

Child Sexual expolitation: improving recognition and response in health care settings. Academy of Royal Colleges 2014.

LSCB CSE Risk Assessment Tool

The Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) has developed a child sexual exploitation risk assessment tool which can be used by any professional who is working with a child or young person and has concerns that they may be at risk from, or experiencing, sexual exploitation. The tool supports professionals to consider the vulnerability of a child or young person alongside any evidence of exploitative situations and relationships in order to reach a judgement of risk. 

LSCB Multi-agency Guidance: Analysing and responding to risk and vulnerabilities in relation to the sexual exploitation of children and young people. Which can be accessed in the Multi-agency procedures via the LSCB website >>

Child sexual exploitation is child abuse, so child protection procedures must be followed if any one suspects that a young person is a victim or is at risk of becoming a victim. Local safeguarding procedures should be followed including referral to Children’s Services regardless of whether the victim is engaging with services or not.

Local resources

In Lincolnshire the SAFE Team provides a multi-agency response to Child Sexual Exploitation, taking the lead in the identification, prevention, investigation, and prosecution of cases across the county. The team is made up of officers and staff from Lincolnshire Police, Children’s Services, Lincolnshire Community Health Services, Youth Offending, CAMHS, and Barnardos. To request support from the SAFE Team professionals should first contact the Children’s Services Customer Service Centre on 01522 782111.

Training - It is recommended that all staff that comes into contact with children and young people undertake a CSE e-learning module to inform regarding prevention, identification and responding to child sexual exploitation. A variety of e-learning modules that can be accessed are available via: The LSCB training website and E-learning for health

The Department of Health and Brook have jointly developed an on line CSE e-learning tool to specifically for health professionals. The tool has been designed for use by all health staff in health care settings - including doctors, receptionists, paramedics, pharmacists and nurses. The tool can be freely accessed at

Professionals who have already completed the CSE e-learning and have also attended the two day inter-agency Safeguarding Children and Young People training can sign up for a one day work-shop that helps them to recognize and respond to sexual exploitation.

For more information visit: or if you think a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm call Children Services Customer Service Centre: on 01522 7821

Information Sharing Letter (DoH et al March 2015)

Tackling Child Exploitation HM Govern March 2015-Government Response to Rotherham


NHS England CSE Pocket Guide

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Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation (DoFE 2009)

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(3.31 MB)

Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation (HM Government 2015)

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(204 KB)

Child Sexual Exploitation: Improving Recognition and Response in Health Settings (Academy of Medical Royal Colleges 2014)

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(318 KB)

Meeting the Needs of Young People with Learning Disabilities at Risk/Experiencing sexual Exploitation (Barnardo’s 2015)

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(2.31 MB)

Why Sexually Exploited Older Teenagers are Being Overlooked (The Children Society 2015)

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