Child sexual exploitation involves situations, contexts or relationships in which a person under 18 is given something, such as food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts or money in return for performing sexual activities or having sexual activities performed on them. It can also involve violence, coercion and intimidation, with threats of physical harm or humiliation.
In all cases of child sexual exploitation (CSE), the person exploiting the child or young person is able to create the impression of authority over them in some form. This could be because of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength or economic situation.
Sexual exploitation of children can start through the use of technology, without them immediately realising. For example, they might be persuaded to post images on the internet or via mobile phone without immediate payment or personal gain.
Violence, coercion and intimidation are common, with a particular vulnerability of the child or young person being used against them. This can make the young person feel as though they have no choice but to continue the relationship.
Signs of a child or young person being in an exploitative relationship can vary. Some examples are:
going missing from home or care
misuse of drugs or alcohol
involvement in offending
repeat sexually-transmitted infections, pregnancies or terminations
absenteeism from school
deterioration in physical appearance
evidence of online sexual bullying
evidence of vulnerability on social networking sites
emotional distance from family members
receiving gifts from unknown sources
recruiting others into exploitative situations
poor mental health
thinking about or attempting suicide
If you suspect a person of carrying out child sexual exploitation, or think someone you know has been a victim, or may be soon, visit our How to report possible child abuse page or call our non-emergency number, 101. If you have a hearing or speech impairment, use our textphone service on 18001 101.
If someone is in immediate danger of harm, please call 999 now. If you have a hearing or speech impairment, use our textphone service 18000 or text us on 999 if you’ve pre-registered with the emergencySMS service.
Barnardo's A national charity helping children in poverty, supporting young carers and helping families looking to foster or adopt.