Skip over navigation|

Home / Professionals / Child Sexual exploitation


Child Sexual Exploitation

 Further advice for young people and adults/parents/carers can be found by clicking on the relevant link.

The following documents are available under the SCB Procedures Section D page .Click here to view:

  • D14 A Child Sexual Exploitation Strategy - Joint Staffs/Stoke-on-Trent 
  • D14 B Child Sexual Exploitation Risk Factor Matrix (word version)  This can be found as a word document at the bottom of the Procedures Section D page
  • D14 C Completing the Child Sexual Exploitation Risk Factor Matrix Guidance Notes 
  • D14 D Staffordshire Police CSE Information Report 

How can I make a referral?
Download a Risk Factor Matrix (D14B) and follow the Guidance notes in (D14C).

Useful documents relating to Child Sexual Exploitation (Click on the link to view the document)

Briefing on how to make child protection medical referrals 2018 (attached below)

The following information sheets are available on the related files shown below:

  • "Spot the signs" of child sexual exploitation
  • Summary of Rotherham JAY Enquiry

 What is child sexual exploitation? Guidance / Definition

"Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse.  It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator.

"The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual.  Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology."

It is also helpful to think in terms of a the following :

  • ‘Child sexual exploitation is a form of sexual abuse in which a person(s) exploits, coerces and/or manipulates a child or young person into engaging in some form of sexual activity in return for something the child needs or desires and/or for the gain of the person(s) perpetrating or facilitating the abuse.’
  • The something received by the child or young person can include both tangible items and/or more intangible ‘rewards’ OR ‘benefits’ such as perceived affection, protection or a sense of value or belonging. Fear of what might happen if they do not comply can also be as significant influencing factor. The gain for those perpetrating or facilitating the abuse can include financial benefit, status or control.
  • CSE can take a variety of different forms. It can take place in person or online and involve both contact and non-contact sexual activities, including the production and distribution of sexual images or exposure to such images. Whilst CSE is not a specific criminal offence in itself, it does encompass a range of sexual offences and other forms of serious criminal misconduct that can be used to disrupt and prosecute this form of abuse.
  • Any child under the age of eighteen, male or female, can be a victim of CSE, including those who can legally consent to sex. The abuse most frequently impacts upon those of a post-primary age and can be perpetrated by adults or peers, on an individual or group basis.
  • CSE can be difficult to identify. Many children and young people – and professionals – can misinterpret such experiences as consensual and fail to recognise the exploitation involved. This can contribute to misplaced feelings of loyalty or shame on the part of victims, many of whom will consequently not self-disclose, and a potential failure to identify abuse situations on the part of professionals. However, the fact that all such scenarios are typified by a power imbalance in favour of those perpetrating the abuse and/or some form of vulnerability or limited availability of choice on the part of the young person clearly delineates/distinguishes the experiences as abusive.

Street grooming: Sexual exploitation through street grooming can include:

  • grooming a child for a sexual purpose. This might involve befriending the child, gaining their trust, giving them drugs, alcohol or gifts, asking them to perform sexual acts as a favour or in exchange for something
  • the movement of children within the UK for the purpose of sexually abusing them (also referred to as internal trafficking)
  • the trafficking of children into the UK from other countries for the purpose of sexually abusing them
  • controlling a child through physical or psychological means or through the use of drugs for a sexual purpose
  • receiving money or goods in payment for someone to have sex with a child (also referred to as child prostitution)
  • paying or exchanging goods for sex with a child.

 Online sexual exploitation can include:

  • grooming children online for the purpose of sexually abusing them. This might involve an adult pretending to be a child, befriending the child through online chat rooms, social networking websites, email, mobile telephone messaging, gaining their trust, stalking their online activities
  • asking children to participate in non-contact sexual activities such as engaging in sexual conversations online or via mobile telephone
  • asking children to take and share indecent images of themselves online or through a mobile telephone or other electronic means.
  • asking children to display sexualised behaviours or perform sexual acts that are recorded or shared live via webcam
  • the creation, storage and distribution of child abuse images (also referred to as child pornography or indecent images)
  • arranging to meet a child in person for the purpose of sexually abusing them.


The following list of indicators is not exhaustive or definitive but it does highlight common signs which can assist professionals in identifying children or young people who may be victims of sexual exploitation. Signs include:

  • unexplained gifts
  • unaffordable new things (clothes, mobile) or expensive habits (alcohol, drugs)
  • drug use, alcohol abuse
  • going missing, running away, homelessness
  • disengagement with school, not in school, truancy, exclusion
  • repeat sexually transmitted infections; in girls repeat pregnancy, abortions, miscarriage
  • inappropriate sexual behaviour
  • sexually risky behaviour, 'swapping' sex
  • association with older men
  • hanging out with groups of older people, anti-social groups, other vulnerable peers
  • unexplained changes in behaviour or personality (chaotic, aggressive, sexual)
  • involved in abusive relationships, intimidated and fearful of certain people or situations
  • contact with known perpetrators
  • self-harming, suicide attempts, overdosing, eating disorders
  • injuries from physical assault, physical restraint, sexual assault
  • getting into/out of different cars
  • seen at known places of concern
  • moving around the country, appearing in new towns or cities, not knowing where they are
  • gang fights, gang membership
  • engagement in offending, criminal activity
  • police involvement, police records.

It is not the case that a set number of signs mean definitively that a child or young person is a victim of sexual exploitation.  The more signs, however, the greater the risk of sexual exploitation.

Vulnerable children and young people

Research and practice shows certain groups of children and young people are at higher risk of being sexually exploited through street grooming. Those particularly at risk include:

  • missing, runaway or homeless children
  • looked after children
  • children with prior experience of sexual, physical or emotional abuse or neglect
  • adolescents or pre-adolescents
  • girls (boys are also at risk but current research suggests most victims are girls. Boys are considered less likely to disclose which may explain the gender imbalance and may also make boys more vulnerable)
  • children not in education through exclusion or truancy or children regularly absent from school
  • social exclusion from services such as health services
  • children from black and minority ethnic communities
  • children from migrant communities
  • refugee children and unaccompanied asylum seeking children
  • trafficked children
  • children with mental health conditions
  • children who use drugs and alcohol
  • children with learning difficulties and disabilities
  • children involved with gangs or living in communities where gangs are prevalent
  • children from families or communities with offending behaviours
  • children living in poverty or deprivation.

Difficulties in identifying victims

It can be difficult to identify children and young people who have been or are being sexually exploited.

Children who have been sexually exploited by organised crime networks are often fearful for their safety even after being removed from the exploitative situation. These children may find it very challenging to form trusting relationships with adults in positions of power, for example with child protection professionals.

Young people may not see themselves as victims. They may believe their abuser is their boyfriend and loves them. They may be unwilling to say anything that could get their boyfriend in trouble or cause their boyfriend to become angry or break up with them.

In some situations, such as in gangs, there may be the belief that the abuse is normal and a rite of passage.

There may not be any peer support for the victim. The child's friends may all be in the same situation, under the control of an abuser or part of the network who is exploiting them. There may be nowhere for the child to go to escape their abusers.  The child may have been isolated from their family and others as part of the process.

They may be dependent on the things they receive such as money, drugs, alcohol, accommodation.

For young people who have a history of offending behaviour or are currently involved with the criminal justice system, there may also be a difficulty in recognising them as a victim and treating their experiences as a child protection issue.

There is an urgent need to free our children and young people from sexual exploitation, which often takes place out of sight in our towns and cities. Often the victims are not identified as the tell-tale signs are overlooked, and too often sexual exploitation is not recognised. 

Inappropriate terms - Suggested alternatives

Putting themselves at risk

  • Child may have been groomed.
  • The child is at an increased vulnerability to being abused/exploited.
  • A Perpetrator may exploit the child’s increased Vulnerability
  • Situation could reduce the child’s safety
  • Location/situation could increase a perpetrators opportunity to abuse them.
  • Child in not in a protective environment
  • The location is dangerous to children
  • Not clear if the child is under duress to go missing
  • Concerns are that the child may be being sexually abused
  • It is unclear why the child is getting in to cars.
  • Concern that there is a power imbalance forcing the child to act in this way.
  • Concerns regarding others Influences on the child.

Sexual activity with…

  • They have been sexually abused
  • They have been raped.
  • Allegation of sexual abuse
  • Child has described sexual activity, however concerns exist that they child may have been groomed/coerced.

Sexually active since (Age under 13)

  • Raped
  • Concerns exist that child may have been coerced, exploited or sexually abused.
  • Child may have been sexually abused.

Have been contacting adult Males/females via phone or internet 

  • Adult males/females have been contacting the child.
  • Child may have been groomed.
  • Concerns that the adult is facilitating commination with a child.
  • Child is vulnerable to online perpetrators.
  • Concerns that others may be using online technology to access or abuse the child.
  • Adults appear to be using a range of methods to communicate with the child

Offering her drugs seemingly in return for sex’

  • Child is being sexually exploited
  • Concerns that the child has been raped
  • Perpetrators are sexually abusing the child
  • The child is being sexually abused
  • The child’s vulnerability regarding drug use is being used by others to abuse them.
  • The perpetrators have a hold over the child by the fact that they have a drug dependency.

Involved in CSE This implies there is a level of choice regarding the child being abused a better term would be the child is vulnerable to being sexually exploited or they are being sexually exploited. A 5 year old would never be referred to as being involved in sexual abuse for the same reasons.

Promiscuous This puts the blame on the child and implies they know what may be happening and therefore is not seen by practitioners as exploitative or abusive.
Often used to describe females behaviour.

Prostituting themselves This completely misses that the child is being controlled/manipulated. Changes in legislation have meant that child prostitution is no longer an acceptable term and should never be used

Boyfriend/girlfriend Children have been challenged in court with practitioner’s recordings where their practitioner has referred to the perpetrator as the child’s boyfriend or girlfriend.

Gangs and Groups

Office of the Children's Commissioner: An inquiry report into child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups.


Give us a voice - CSE Principles

Are parents in the picture? Professional and parental perspectives of child sexual exploitation is the first comprehensive survey of parents’ and professionals’ thoughts about child sexual exploitation.  For further information follow the link to Virtual College website

Modern Slavery - Policy Briefing Paper October 2014 (Click on the related link below to view the document).

'Wud U?' Barnardo’s has teamed up with Microsoft to produce a unique new app to help teach young people about the dangers of child sexual exploitation. ‘Wud U?’ has been designed to help teachers and other professionals working with young people educate children about how to keep themselves safe.  The app consists of several scenarios that any teenager might face and sets out the sorts of circumstances in which young people may be led into being sexually exploited. As the scenario progresses the user is asked to think about what they would do in the same situation and receive advice about the decisions they make.
The ‘Wud U?’ app is available to download free of charge from the Microsoft App store, the Apple store and Google play.

Family & Parenting Institute provides information on Commercialisation and Sexualisation of childhood. 

NSPCC: a serous of short animated films (Some agency websites may block this site)

Anybody's Child - A new video resource from Chatback productions. Chatback are a group of young people aged 11 - 18 who live in foster care. The 5x3min videos are supported with teacher notes.

Know and See  - Website with information, support and resources around recognising knowing the signs of CSE for young people, schools, parents and businesses.

Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOPs)

  • Thinkuknow programme has released a film, Exploited, which helps young people recognise the signs of sexual exploitation and the differences between healthy and exploitative
  • Thinkuknow resource for eight to ten year olds called Play Like Share.

    Play Like Share is a three-episode animated series and accompanying resource pack, which aims to help children learn how to stay safe from sexual abuse, exploitation and other risks they might encounter online.

    The films, which can be downloaded from , follow the adventures of Alfie, Ellie and Sam as they form a band and enter their school's Battle of the Bands contest - taking on the mean but 'cool' Popcorn Wizards as they go. The three friends learn that while the internet can help them in pursuit of their goal, they need to use it wisely and safely.

    Play Like Share helps children to identify the signs of manipulative, pressurising and threatening behaviour online. This is explored through relatable characters in peer-on-peer scenarios, where children recognise tactics such as flattery or bribery or that feeling you might get when something’s not right. This resource aims to develop the confidence and skills children need to respond to these situations and get help when they need it.

    Barnardo’s and The Children’s Society have released their report on child sexual exploitation. The report shows that children with learning disabilities are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation than other children, and face additional barriers to protection and to receiving support. Click here to view the report

Grange Park SARC - Sexual Assault Referral Centre

The Staffordshire SARC at Cobridge Community Health Centre is operated by G4S Health Services and includes the SARC Management and the provision of Nurse Examiners. Address:
Grange Park SARC   Cobridge Community Health Centre
Church Terrace   Stoke-on-Trent   ST6 2JN

Contact Details:
The office telephone number for the SARC  is 01782 980380 – this number can be used by professionals for advice, booking video interviews, deliveries etc.

There will continue to be two referral routes to access the SARC service, access via the police or the self-referral route for over 18s. Those who are aged 16 and 17 self-referrals will be considered by the clinician after initial discussion with the client.

Adults who want to speak to someone about accessing the SARC can call the Self-referral line which is available 24 hours a day. The self-referral line will take the client through to our call centre where a trained call handler will re-direct the call as required. The Self-referral Line is 0800 970 0372

Adobe - To view the linked documents you will need a copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader. To download a free copy go to

See the latest updates

Don't forget when you're looking at our website to refresh your pages to make sure you're seeing the latest updates of information and support. Just click your control key and the refresh button on your computer at the same time to refresh the web page you are looking at.

Related Files:

Safeguarding Children logo