Child Sexual Exploitation
As a parent or carer, you could have an important role to play in protecting children from this horrific form of child abuse.
Sexual exploitation is a form of sexual abuse, in which a young person is manipulated or forced into taking part in a sexual act. This could be as part of what seems to be a consensual relationship, or it could be in return for attention, affection, money, drugs, alcohol or somewhere to stay.
The young person may think that their abuser is their friend, boyfriend or girlfriend, but the abuser will put them into dangerous situations, forcing the child or young person to do things that they don't want to do. The abuser could threaten them or be violent towards them.
Spotting the signs
The signs can be very difficult to identify, young people who are being sexually exploited may:
- be involved in abusive relationships, intimidated and fearful of certain people or situations
- hang out with groups of older people, or anti-social groups, or with other vulnerable peers
- associate with other young people involved in sexual exploitation
- get involved in gangs, gang fights, gang membership
- have older boyfriends or girlfriends
- spend time at places of concern, such as hotels or known brothels
- not know where they are, because they have been moved around the country
- go missing from home, care or education.
What is 'grooming'?
The process known as 'grooming' is designed to isolate the child, break down the relationship with parents, carers and friends and so make the child easier to manipulate.
Signs of 'grooming' can be hard to spot. Children may:
- be very secretive, including about what they are doing online
- have money, cigarettes and new things such as clothes or mobile phones that they can't or won't explain
- go to unusual places to meet friends
- have access to drugs and alcohol.
In older children, signs of grooming can easily be mistaken for 'normal' teenage behaviour, but you may notice unexplained changes in behaviour or personality, or inappropriate sexual behaviour for their age.
Download the 'Tackling CSE Toolkit' for parents and carers
NSCB has produced a 'toolkit' to help parents and carers recognise Child Sexual Exploitation and provide them with practical advice on how to keep their children safe.
The toolkit is a document divided into chapters. For parents and carers, we recommend reading chapter 1 and chapter 8 of the toolkit, these can be downloaded below:
This chapter includes;
- Definition of Child Sexual Exploitation
- Description of the 'Grooming Processes'
- Behavioural and psychological signs of abuse
- CSE and The Law
- CSE and boys / young men
- CSE and online grooming
- CSE and relation to missing children, mental health and the effect on the family
This chapter includes:
- Your child and the internet (including internet use agreements that you and your child can use at home)
- Parents/carers role in addressing the risk of CSE
- Helping young people to understand 'consent'
- Sexual Offences Act 2013 - understand what the law says about consent and the age of a child or young person
- Resources for parents and carers
Parents and carers may also find the section aimed at children and young people useful:
Or download Barnardo's short leaflet for parents and carers about child sexual exploitation.
More help and resources for parents and carers:
Call or text 116 000 - young people's CSE helpline
This is a new national helpline for young people to call or text if they have concerns for themselves or a friend about child sexual exploitation: 116 000. It's free, anonymous and open 24 hours, 365 days per year.
The following links could also help you:
- Barnardo's provides a useful video for parents about spotting the signs of child sexual exploitation.
- The NSPCC website also provides more information about identifying the signs of CSE.
- The website of the organisation 'Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation' (PACE) provides a description of the different types of grooming.
Last updated: 07 March 2023