Child sexual exploitation (CSE)

The below webpage content is currently under review. 

What is it?

The sexual exploitation of children and young people under 18 involves exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where young people (or a third person or persons) receive ‘something’ (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of performing, and/or others performing on them, sexual activities.

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) can occur through use of technology without the child’s immediate recognition, for example the persuasion to post sexual images on the internet/mobile phones with no immediate payment or gain. In all cases those exploiting the child/young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources. Violence, coercion and intimidation are common, involvement in exploitative relationships being characterised in the main by the child or young person's limited availability of choice resulting from their social/economic and/or emotional vulnerability.    

(The National Working Group for Sexually Exploited Children and Young People, 2008)

How do I know if a child is at risk?

There is no stereotypical victim of exploitation, there are warning signs in young peoples behaviour that may indicate that something is wrong - and if know what you’re looking for you can take steps to protect them.

Children missing from home or care is an indicator that they may be at risk of sexual exploitation. With this in mind the Sexual Exploitation And Missing (SEAM) process also manages children who regularly go missing from home or care (see the SEAM documents in useful resources below).

What are the signs?

  • Regularly missing from home or school, or staying out all night
  • Getting into cars with unknown adults and having significantly older friends
  • Detachment from peer appropriate activities or changes in peer group
  • Associating with other young people known to be involved in exploitation
  • Possession of unexplained money and/or gifts, mobile phones, drugs or alcohol
  • Truanting from school, decline in attendance or experiencing periods of exclusion
  • Significant changes in behaviour such as becoming aggressive and disruptive, or quiet and withdrawn
  • Changes in physical appearance - overtly sexualised dress, weight loss, visibly fatigued
  • Low self-esteem, eating disorders and self-harm
  • Having sexually transmitted infections, becoming pregnant, requiring terminations
  • Repeat offending, involvement in criminal activity or gang association.

Any child displaying one or more of the vulnerabilities above should be considered to be at high risk of sexual exploitation. Professionals should immediately start an investigation to determine the risk, along with preventative and protective action as required.

What makes a child more at risk?

  • Living in a chaotic household, where there may be parental substance misuse, domestic violence, parental mental health issues and parental criminality
  • Lack of friends form the same age group
  • Confusion about their sexuality
  • Learning disabilities, including non-statemented difficulties
  • Recent bereavement or loss
  • Attending school/associating with other young people who are sexually exploited
  • Gang association through relatives, peers or intimate relationships
  • Low self-esteem or self-confidence
  • Homelessness or living in residential care, hostel or bed and breakfast
  • The child being a young carer.

How to make a referral

If you’re worried about a child or young person you can:

Find out more about what to do if you have concerns regarding a child or young person.

Greater Manchester protocols

The Greater Manchester Safeguarding Partnership covers protocols (TRI.X procedures) for working with children and young people affected by sexual exploitation see section 4.5 (external link).

A number of other sections are also useful:

Useful resources


Key messages from research on CSE