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Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

CSE can happen to anyone under the age of 18. It’s when a group or individual with more power will use their position to trick the young person or child into sexual activity.

This page is aimed at young people. Are you a parent, carer or professional working with young people? Read this page with information relevant to you

What is Child Sexual Exploitation?

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is when someone under 18 is targeted by a person or group of people and forced, pressured, tricked or manipulated into sexual activity with them or with other people. This could include:

  • having sex or oral sex;
  • touching someone else’s private body parts or letting them touch yours (for example touching breasts, penis, vulva, bottom, genitals)
  • kissing someone else or letting someone else kiss you;
  • taking or sharing photos of yourself (particularly photos of private body parts) or taking or sharing photos of another young person;
  • filming or streaming sexual activities;
  • watching other people take part in sexual activities;
  • having conversations or exchanging messages about sex or of a sexual nature.

Child sexual exploitation can happen to anyone regardless of their gender or sexual orientation and can be carried out by anyone, including people of the same age or by people you’re close to. It is a form of abuse and should always be taken seriously.

If you have experienced any kind of abuse, it is not your fault and you are not to blame. If someone is pressuring, manipulating or forcing you into sexual activity, this is not okay and this is never part of a healthy relationship. How to get help 

What does CSE look like?

CSE comes in many different forms and can be a one-off or a series of incidents.


It’s always nice to make new friends and most people you meet will be genuine. But some people may try to befriend you so they can abuse or exploit you, this is known as ‘grooming’.

The relationship could be romantic or it could be a friendship.

They will often make you feel special by showing you interest and affection. After they have gained your trust, things change and they may become aggressive, violent and/or begin demanding that you do or say certain things.

They may also affect your other relationships, for example, keeping you away from family and friends and people you can rely on or making you skip school to spend time with them.

If you ever feel unsure about someone’s intentions, even if you think they may just want to be friends, it’s always best to raise this with a trusted adult before anything happens. Tell someone as soon as you are worried and even if you think it was just a one-off.


Often an abuser will give you gifts like money, a place to stay, alcohol, a cool place to hang out with your mates, etc. Over time they might then say you owe them for those gifts. If someone makes you feel that you have to repay them, for example through sex or sexual activity, this isn’t okay.

No healthy relationship is built on using sex as a way to pay someone back. Sex should only ever be entered into where there is full consent, trust and communication. If you have sex because the person has made you feel like you owe them, this isn’t you giving your consent – this is sexual abuse.

Offline and online

Child Sexual Exploitation can happen online or in person. Abusers may use social media platforms or other forms of online communication to befriend a young person and then ask them to send sexual images or videos of themselves. They may pressure you by saying this is what boyfriends/girlfriends do for one another. They can then use these videos/images to blackmail you into sending more.

Someone has sexual images or videos of me

Sharing intimate images of someone without their consent is always illegal, if you are under 18, this is considered child abuse imagery.

If someone has shared an image/video online, there are organisations that can support you and can help remove the images. You won’t be blamed and you won’t get in trouble. Report it to Childline

If someone is blackmailing you with images/videos of you, this is against the law and it’s really important you get help.

If you meet someone online, you might think it’s just chatting and nothing bad could come of it but it’s important you never share personal information, images, or videos. If something doesn’t feel right, always talk to a trusted adult.

More about how to know if you’re being groomed

Can it be CSE if I am in a relationship?

If you are in a relationship with someone, even if you love them and they love you, it is still possible that you could be at risk of CSE.

The most important part of any healthy relationship is consent.

Consent to sex or sexual activity should be something you do freely and should be something you want and feel excited about. Whatever your age, it should never be something you feel scared, uncomfortable or pressured to do.

  • Under 13 – In the eyes of the law, someone under the age of 13 is not seen as old enough to consent to sex. Any sexual activity with someone under 13 is illegal and in most cases will be considered CSE. It will always be considered sexual assault or abuse.
  • Under 16 – In UK law, you are only old enough to consent to sex or sexual activity at 16. This is what’s known as the ‘age of consent’.
  • Under 18 – If you are under 18 and someone is pressuring, tricking or forcing you into doing anything sexual, even if they are a similar age to you (or only a few years older) and even if you are in a relationship, then this could be CSE.
  • Remember: Regardless of your age, you cannot consent if you are too drunk or high or if you feel you have no choice or cannot safely refuse for example, if you are being blackmailed or are worried about what they might do.

Find out more about the age of consent

These laws are in place to protect you, there is no intention to prosecute people under the age of 16 where both mutually agree (consent) and where they are of a similar age.

Getting Help

If you think that you are being abused or manipulated, never confront your abuser because this could put you at risk.

If you can, talk to an adult you trust so they can help you get the support you need.

If you don’t feel comfortable talking to an adult, or don’t feel there is an adult you can talk to, there are also organisations that can support you:

  • Childline has a 24 hour helpline (0800 11 11)
  • Know and See has lots of information and an anonymous CSE helpline (116 000) which you can call or text

Supporting a friend

Some key signs that someone you know might be at risk of CSE or in trouble in some way:

  • Do they skip school and you’re not sure where they go?
  • Do they hang out with adults or people older than them?
  • Do they have an older boyfriend or girlfriend?
  • Do they have money, alcohol, a phone etc. that they can’t explain how they got?
  • Have you noticed a change in their behaviour? Are they more sad or withdrawn? Are they more outgoing?
  • Have you noticed a change in their appearance?
  • Are they suddenly spending less time with you or talking to you less? Do you feel there’s something they’re not telling you?
  • Do they talk about new people they’ve met online or in person that are perhaps older?
  • Are they always tired or staying out late?

If you notice any of these signs, you should talk to a trusted adult (teacher, parent, youth worker), even if your friend has asked you not to tell anyone. You are acting in their best interest and being a good friend by helping them to get support.

If you think they might be in immediate danger, call 999.

You can also contact Fearless anonymously to report any crime, including CSE.

Information for professionals and adults

What is Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)?

Child Sexual Exploitation, often shortened to CSE, is a form of child sexual abuse (CSA). It refers to when a child or young person (or a group of children or young people) under the age of 18 is abused by a person or group of people in a position of power. The person or group of people will use their position of power to manipulate and coerce the child or young person into sexual activity.  

Child sexual exploitation can happen to anyone regardless of their gender or sexual orientation and can be carried out by anyone, including people of the same age.  

Young people or children are unlikely to disclose CSE, that’s why it’s really important to know what CSE can look like and how to spot the signs.

What does CSE look like?

CSE can take many different forms.


Often the abuser forms a relationship with the child or young person with the intention of manipulating them – this is known as grooming. This could be seen as a friendship or a romantic relationship.

Through gifts and expressions of love, the young person or child becomes close to the abuser before the abuse starts. This way the abuser is able to convince the young person or child to do sexual activity often framed as a thing that friends or boyfriends/girlfriends do. This can leave the young person or child believing they are in a loving relationship.

Exchange and receiving gifts

CSE often involves some sort of exchange. The abuser will give the young person something for example money, alcohol, accommodation, affection or power and in exchange demand sexual acts. Often the young person is manipulated to believe they owe the abuser.  

Organised and opportunistic

Some gangs will use CSE to recruit new members. Other times it is carried out by an opportunist abuser who happens to meet the young person online or in person. 

One-off or series of incidents

Abuse can happen once or it can become a pattern of abuse in which the young person feels trapped and unable to escape. 

Online and offline

Grooming can happen anywhere. 

The use of social media has provided a way for abusers to groom young people into sexual activity. Sometimes abuse can happen purely online, coercing the young person to send sexual content to the abuser and blackmailing or threatening them with this content to get them to send more. Other times it can be a mixture of in-person and online abuse.   

County Lines

Drug gangs will often abuse and exploit children and young people to expand their drug dealing into new areas, known as ‘County Lines’.

Children, sometimes as young as seven, are targeted as they are less likely to be caught or suspected. Gang members befriend the child or young person and exploit them to move and store drugs or money. Children exploited in this way will often experience sexual, physical and mental abuse.

More about County Lines

What are some of the signs of CSE?

CSE can happen to anyone, although certain young people may be more vulnerable to CSE, for example if they have a disrupted family life or have a history of abuse or disability.

Some potential signs of CSE include:

  • Being under the influence of drugs or alcohol 
  • Using two different phones 
  • Carrying or owning lots of money or items with no explanation 
  • Inappropriate sexual behaviour  
  • Repeated pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections  
  • Repeated urinary tract infections
  • Physical signs of abuse including unexplained cuts and bruises  
  • Looking frightened or nervous in certain areas and with certain people 
  • Hanging around with people who are older than them 
  • Self-harming
  • Spending less time with family and friends
  • Repeated absence from school

I’m concerned about a child or young person, what do I do?

If you think a young person is being abused, don’t confront the abuser as this may put the young person at greater risk.  

Remember: Always treat the young person with empathy and make sure they feel listened to and understood. Communicate that you will keep it confidential only if they aren’t in serious danger.

Where can I find out more?

  1. You can read the Centre of expertise on child sexual exploitation’s report on the scale and nature of CSE
  2. Brook’s FREE Spotting the Signs Tool is designed to strengthen safeguarding practice and enable professionals who work with young people to better recognise and respond to Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) 
  3. Brook’s FREE online course about CSE
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