Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is to a great extent a hidden problem. Children, both girls and boys, are groomed and forced, pressured or tricked into engaging in sexual activities or the taking of sexual images.
What is CSE?
Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is an illegal activity by people who have power or influence over young people. It is a form of sexual abuse in which a young person is manipulated into taking part in sexual acts. It can happen directly face to face, as well as over the internet and via mobile phones.
The young person may not recognise what is happening because the abuser makes them think they are in a relationship and are special. CSE can also happen as a result of violence, threats or intimidation. It can happen to anyone, regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity or background.
Child sexual exploitation usually involves children and young people being given gifts or favours (such as food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, or money) as a result of performing or having others performing sexual activities on them.
For victims, the pain of their ordeal and fear that they will not be believed means they are too often scared to come forward.
In 2012, Barnardo’s services worked with 1,940 children and young people in the UK who had been sexually exploited. The true number of children who are victims of sexual exploitation is likely to be much higher. You can read more on this here
CSE is not always easy to spot as the warning signs can often be confused with other difficulties a child may be experiencing. These are some of the main indicators of CSE (although it is not an exhaustive list):
- Going missing or absent for periods of time, or regularly returning home late without reasonable explanation
- Regularly missing school
- Being secretive about where they are and who they are with
- Secretive use of the internet
- Being in contact with older people online that are not part of their usual peer network
- Having unexplained new possessions, for example a mobile phone
- Having older boyfriends or girlfriends
- Isolation from you or their friends
- Drug and alcohol misuse
- Displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviour, including how they dress
- Mood swings or changes in behaviour
- Changes in physical appearance such as weight loss or appearing tired all of the time or anal or vaginal soreness or an unusual discharge, and pregnancy
- Having unexplained injuries
- Frequent STI’s or unwanted pregnancies
For a few children these effects may be relatively short-term, depending on the individual child, the nature of the abuse and the help they receive. However, for many the effects can last into adulthood and cause a long list of problems, especially mental health problems and drug or alcohol misuse.
Parents should also be alert to any adults who pay an unusual amount of attention to their child, for example:
- giving their child gifts, toys or favours
- offering to take their child on trips, outings and holidays
- seeking opportunities to be alone with their child
Who can I speak to?
If you are worried about your child, the first thing you should do is speak to someone at the MASH in Devon, (Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub) on 0345 155 1071 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or in Torbay, call 01803208100 or email email@example.com and give as much information as you can. If you have immediate concerns about your child, please call the police on 999.
What else can I do?
It’s important to talk to your child or young person about the
differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships to help highlight potential risks.
Look out for changes in behaviour or any physical signs of abuse
Monitor any episodes of staying out late or not returning home
Record registration numbers if your child/young person is being picked up by unknown adults
Be aware of new, unexplained possessions
Put measures into place to minimise any risks associated with the child being online
The thought of a child being sexually exploited is distressing for any parent and it can have a significant impact on family life and relationships. Therefore it is important that you access support for yourself if possible. This may be through family or friends, or you may wish to access professional support, for example via Children and Young People’s Sevices or Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation (PACE).
PACE is an organisation that specifically supports parents of children and young people who are victims of CSE. For more information on what they can offer, click here.
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