Child Sexual Exploitation

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child abuse where an adult targets a vulnerable child, often during their teenage years, to sexual abuse them
Young person sat on the floor wearing headphones and looking at phone

Child sexual exploitation is when an adult befriends a child (anyone under 18) or a vulnerable young adult in order to sexual abuse them. 

It does not matter why the adult has sex with the child. It is a crime.  

Crucial: Child sexual exploitation is a crime and the police and social services will act to stop it happening. If you think you are being abused or are worried about someone you can call the Kingfisher confidential helpline number on 01865 309196 or contact the police. Your concerns will be taken seriously. 

Definition of Child Sexual Exploitation

This definition of child sexual exploitation is agreed by the government, police, and other groups, like the NSPCC:

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.

Crucial: Victims of child sexual exploitation can be boys or girls, or have another gender identity. Sexual abusers can be women or men or have another gender identity. They may target people of the same sex, opposite sex, or those who have another gender identity. No matter what your situation, you will be listened to, respected and helped.

How does it happen?

There are some behaviours we see when abusive grown-ups target young people and draw them into abusive sexual relationships. These are potential warning signs:

  1. Adults show the child a lot of interest and affection, make promises and tell them how important they are, how much they love them, and are kind. This can be in person or online.
  2. They may ask young people to come back to their house with other adults, or go to parties.
  3. They may be offered drugs and alcohol.
  4. They may be offered a place to stay or hang out. 
  5. The child may be offered gifts. If the grooming is online they may offer gaming credits or other online rewards.
  6. They may threaten the child or their family or friends.
  7. They may threaten to share images or tell family and friends.
  8. They may lie about what is normal in relationships.
  9. They may threaten to do extreme things if the child ends the relationship or stops contact.
  10. They may lie to the child and say that nobody cares and the abuse cannot be stopped. 

In reality the child is being abused and all professional adults, such as teachers, police, and social workers must by law act to stop that abuse. 

Experience: My name is Luzia* (name changed to protect the identity) and when I was 13 I was groomed and abused by a group of older men. I now know this is called Child Sexual Exploitation but at the time I thought they loved me and I thought what they did to me was OK – it wasn’t – I was a child. At first I didn’t know what to do but then I trusted a safe adult and told them and they helped stop the abuse.  


If something bad is happening to you SPEAK OUT, SHOUT LOUD, TRUST A SAFE ADULT AND TELL. DON’T BE ALONE – THERE ARE GOOD PEOPLE OUT THERE WHO WILL HELP YOU. PLEASE DON’T SUFFER IN SILENCE YOU ARE NOT ALONE. If you tell someone safe like a teacher, your social worker, the school nurse, your doctor, a police officer, a youth worker they will help you. There is ALWAYS HOPE so please don’t feel abuse is your path in life. If you tell the right people they will help you to stop it.

Am I being groomed?

Making a new friend is an exciting time. There is lots to find out about each other. But sometimes people pretend to be friends in order to hurt, abuse, bully or exploit other people. This can happen with older people or with people your own age.

Everyone has the right to feel safe in relationships. If a friendship is making you feel unsafe, then you can say no to further contact. This is not rude or unfair to the other person. This is taking care of yourself.

Crucial: If you are feeling uncomfortable or anxious when you talk to someone online, on the phone, or face to face, listen to that feeling. This is your early warning sign that something may be wrong.

Signs of a risky relationship

Every situation is different, but here are some of the signs that someone you are talking to might be trying to abuse you:

  • They ask lots of questions about you, like they're investigating or checking up on you
  • They compliment you a lot and seem to be interested in everything you like
  • They want you to message them from inappropriate places, like the bathroom or bedroom

Sometimes relationships we have with friends at our school or place of work can become risky. Every situation is different but here are some signs that a relationship might be getting out of control:

  • They message when you should be doing other things, like sleeping or school work
  • They ask you to keep conversations secret or to lie
  • They talk down your family or friends, or tell you you can't trust them

Sometimes the people we are talking to need urgently to get help themselves. Here are some of the signs of someone who needs to see a professional:

  • The conversation goes sexual, erratic, aggressive or strange
  • They start telling you sad or strange stories about themselves or telling you they need money
  • They start threatening you or telling you you will get in trouble

Remember, if something has happened and you are concerned, you can always talk to a trusted adult like a teacher, parent/carer or school health nurse. You can share any concerns, no matter how awful or how small. You always have the right to feel safe.

Instant Expert: Find out more about online grooming from Childline, including how to report concerns, where grooming happens and what you can do to stop it.

Groomed by someone my own age?

In some cases of Child Sexual Exploitation, the children have felt that they were safe because the person abusing them was about the same age or younger.

But  abuse can happen at any age.

If you have a concern, talk to someone - even if your boyfriend or girlfriend is not much older than you. 

Crucial: If you have been a victim of child sexual exploitation, help is available. The Horizon service are a team who specialise in young people’s mental health offering help and support to young people who have had experiences in relation to sexual abuse.

A risk for boys and girls

Boys and girls are at risk from child sexual exploitation. But evidence suggests that boys may be less willing to say that abuse is happening - and professionals may be slower to spot the signs.

Boys may be at risk from men or women, and the effect on their development, education and mental health can be very serious. 

Find out more

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