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What is Child Sexual Exploitation

“Sexual exploitation of children and young people under 18 years of age involves exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where a child or young person (or a third person or persons) receive ‘something’ (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of them performing, and/or another or others performing on them, sexual activities” (NWG, 2008).

Children with learning disabilities are more likely to be vulnerable but have been somehow excluded from the above definition, hence, looking at CSE in addition to the following definition, helps to cover all issues:

In the UK, a statutory definition of CSE has been proposed by the government, to ensure that all agencies are working together towards the same meaning. HM Government defines ‘Child sexual exploitation is a form of child abuse. It occurs where anyone under the age of 18 is persuaded, coerced or forced into sexual activity in exchange for, amongst other things, money, drugs/alcohol, gifts, affection or status. Consent is irrelevant, even where a child may believe they are voluntarily engaging in sexual activity with the person who is exploiting them. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact and may occur online.’

it is important to understand that CSE is a child abuse and a crime because it has huge impact on the physical, social, emotional and psychological health and well-being of the child or young person. CSE can be perpetrated by both adults and peers of the same age as, or slightly older, than the individual being exploited.

Legal age of consent: Cultural and religious belief of who is a child

The diverse cultural and beliefs of who a child is around the world. Although, UNICEF: Convention on the Rights of the Child defines that a child is a person under the age of 18, regardless of their race, religion or abilities; whatever they think or say, whatever type of family they come from. It doesn’t matter where children live, what language they speak, what their parents do, whether they are boys or girls, what their culture is, whether they have a disability or whether they are rich or poor (UNICEF).

The Age of Consent ranges from as low as 11 in Nigeria to as high as 21 years old in Bahrain and across the world.

In the United Kingdom (UK) and Ghana, the age of consent is 16 years old. Individuals aged 15 or younger in Ghana are not legally able to consent to sexual activity, and such activity may result in prosecution for statutory rape or the equivalent local law.

What is legal or illegal

  • No child under 13 years can consent to sexual activity. Any sexual intercourse with a child under 13 will be treated as rape (s.5-8).
  • Children under the age of 16 cannot legally consent to sexual activity (Criminalise the perpetrator) (s.9-12)
  • 16 or 17 years old can consent to sexual relationships, however, may still be a risk of sexual exploitation. Capacity to consent should be considered (s16.19)
  • Prosecutions for CSE can be brought under provisions of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
  • CA s.47 places a duty on the LA to help children likely to suffer or is suffering from significant harm.
  • The rights of children and young people principles suggest the right to:
  1. Non-discrimination
  2. The best interest of the child
  3. right to  a safe life
  4. survival and development
  5. Dignity, equality and respect.

Who can be affected by Sexual Exploitation?

CSE can affect any child, anytime, anywhere – regardless of their social status or ethnic background.

World Health Organisation (WHO) (2015) estimates CSE rates globally amongst children under the age of 18 to be 73 million and 150 million respectively. According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) (2015), 1 in 20 children in the UK, have been sexually abused. 1 in 3 children sexually abused by an adult did not tell anyone. Over 90% of sexually abused children were abused by someone they knew. Over a third of sexual offences recorded by the police are against children. Over 2,800 children were identified as needing protection from sexual abuse last year. Child sexual abuse costs the UK £3.2bn a year (Saied-Tessier, 2014).

However, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) (2015) evidence suggests that the number is far greater due to unreported cases.

Change in Terminology

The term child prostitution has been removed or banished from the England legislation referring to a:

“child sex trafficking victim,” “sex-trafficked child,” and “commercially sexually abused child”
As “sex worker” or “prostitute. “involved in prostitution is unacceptable.
They are Victims of – Child Trafficking or sexual abuse

Types/models of exploitation

Child sexual exploitation can occur through the use of technology without the child’s immediate recognition, for example, persuasion to post sexual images on the internet or mobile phone 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 boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Peer to peer
  • The group or gang
  • The abuse of authority
  • The party
  • Familiar
  • Child trafficking
  • Indecent dressing (Nude)

Online (Sexting) type/model of exploitation

  • social media
  • email
  • Chat line (WhatsApp. Snap Chat)
  • Videos: face to face video chat, the use of YouTube, snap chat)

    Myths about Child Sexual Exploitation

    There is often misconception that only children from disadvantaged or chaotic background can be drawn into sexual exploitation because of their existing vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, sexual exploitation of children and young people has been identified in the United Kingdom and the rest of the world. CSE can affect a child or young person irrespective of their age, gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious, political or personal belief and social economic status.

    “Are Children and young people in general currently safe and secure and well looked after?”

    See this links for typical cases

    What is grooming

    ‘Grooming’ defines the process whereby an adult act as a boyfriend, friend, or peer in order to build a relationship with a child. Once trust has been gained, the adult then exploits that trust and demanding favours, such as sexual activity.

    The grooming process

    Target stage

    Observing, Selecting, Initiating contact and gaining trust and Sharing a child/young person’s information.

    Friends stage

    Making a child/young person feel special, giving gifts and rewards, Spending time together, Listening and remembering, keeping secrets, being there, understanding better than anyone else, testing out physical contact and Offering protection.

    Loving stage

    Being a boyfriend or girlfriend, establishing a sexual relationship, lowering inhibitions, involving in forbidden activities and Being inconsistent

    Abusive stage

    Withdrawing friendship and love, using for sex, reinforcing dependency, isolating from family and friends, Tricking and manipulating, Using violence and assault

    Signs and symptom/indicators that a child or young person is at risk of grooming or is been groomed

    • Disengagement from education
    • Unexplainable money or gifts
    • Older ‘boyfriend’ or association with older people
    • Sexualised behaviour
    • sexualised risk-taking behaviour
    • Physical injuries
    • Mobile phones
    • Going missing
    • Gang involvement
    • Indulging in alcohol and drug use

    Factors influencing CSE

    Push or Vulnerability factors

    Push or Vulnerability factors are negative things going on in the YP’s life that push them to seek acceptance, affection, belonging, understanding outside of their home such as:
    family dysfunction, being in (residential) care, experience of sexual abuse or neglect, experience of domestic violence or chaotic home, socio‐economic disadvantage, experience of learning difficulties or disabilities, parental mental health problems or abuse of drug and alcohol can also be associated with children going missing or running away from home which often makes them homeless and in search for accommodation.

    Push or Vulnerability factors that may put a child or young person at risk include:

    • Attachment issues
    • Bullied
    • Disengagement from education
    • Previously abused
    • Fostering or adoption breakdown
    • Looked after or careleaver
    • Drug and alcohol-dependent
    • Ill health
    • Bereavement
    • Friends or siblings with young people who are sexually exploited
    • Unsure about sexuality or unable to disclose sexual orientation to families
    • Lack of confidence
    • Low self-esteem

    In all of these types of grooming, the main aim of the perpetrator is to use sophisticated tactics through offering financial support, accommodation, money, gifts, drugs and alcohol in exchange for exploitative sexual activities.

    These tactics are the Pull or persuasive factors that exist as the warning signs or risk indicators that may potentially persuasive a child or young person into possible exploitative situations.

    Impact of CSE

    Biological: Developmental issues
    Psychological: Anxiety, depression, addiction, low self-esteem, self-harm, eating disorders, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, self-image, depression, nightmares, flashbacks, attachment problems.
    Physiological: Physical injuries, pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, weight loss, sickness, self-harm, problems with fertility, hair loss, poor diet and addictions.
    Social: Isolation from friends and family, low education attainment or training, lack of interest in recreational activities, difficulty developing and maintaining relationships.
    Economic: Poor or no income and housing problems.

    How to help prevent and protect children and young people from
    CSE Healthy relationship

    Protective network
    Parents and carers should make such that a good relationship is maintained between then and the child or young person to secure good attachment and communication.

    Parents and carers should access help from practitioners on how to help their child or young person enjoy the home or settings environment that can ‘pull’ the child or young person away from exploiters.

    Active listening
    Active listening and good observation are essential in other to identify clues that will help support and advice the child or young person on their vulnerabilities, wishes and feelings.

    Help the child or young person to understand the difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship.

    Child centred approach
    In all cases, the welfare of the child or young person is paramount to the parent or carers decisions. Practitioners have to ensure they have 1 to 1 time with the child, as in some cases parents or carers may themselves be the abusers. These include forced marriage, commercial exploitation and trafficking.

    Online safety

    Privacy settings
    Created awareness for the child or young person to stay safe by checking to make sure that he/she has high privacy settings on any social media they access.

    Avoid Strangers
    To ensure that he does not give out personal information, meet up with people he does not know, not to assume that all profile pictures are genuine, never to send naked images to anyone as he will never have control of what they do with it, and not to add people he does not know on his friend list and finally to use the icon ‘ thinkuknow.co.uk’ on all social media to report abusive messages or comment as well as discuss with someone he truth (CEOP, 2013).

    Find out more at Child Helpline links for support and advice

    CSE Useful Internet Resources











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