Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

What is Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)?

Sexual exploitation of children and young people under 18 involves exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where young people (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.

CSE can occur through the use of technology (i.e. the Internet) without the child’s immediate recognition. For example, being persuaded to post sexual images on the Internet or share via mobile phones without immediate payment or gain.  For more information on eSafety, see our dedicated page.

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.

Both girls and boys are at risk of sexual exploitation, and it is seriously harmful to children both emotionally and physically. Children and young people often find it very hard to understand or accept that they are being abused through sexual exploitation, and this increases their risk of being exposed to violent assault and life threatening events by those who abuse them.

What are the signs?

Things to look out for are:

  • Going missing for periods of time or regularly returning home late.
  • Staying out late or overnight with no explanation as to where they have been.
  • Going places that you know they cannot afford.
  • Skipping school or being disruptive in class.
  • Suddenly acquiring expensive gifts such as mobile phones, jewellery – even drugs – and not being able to explain how they came by them.
  • Having mood swings and changes in temperament.
  • Noticeable changes in behaviour – becoming secretive, defensive or aggressive when asked about their personal life.
  • Wearing inappropriate clothing that is too adult or revealing for their age.
  • Displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviours, such as over familiarity with strangers, dressing in a sexualised manner or sending sexualised images by mobile phone (‘sexting’).
  • Getting into trouble with the police.
  • Bruises, marks on the body, sexually-transmitted diseases, pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse or self-harm.
  • Repeated phone calls, letters, emails from adults outside family social circle.

What should I do if I suspect that my child is at risk or a victim of CSE?

It’s not always easy to know what our children are up to or if anything is bothering them, but any combination of the above signs is a strong indicator that something is wrong and you should get help.  Contact Redbridge Child Protection and Assessment Team (CPAT) for support, guidance and to make a referral:

Tel:  020 8708 3885 (09:00 to 17:00 weekdays) or 020 8708 5897 (after 17:00 and at weekends).


Further Information


Useful websites:

  • Parents Against Child Exploitation (PACE)

  • It’s Not Okay

  • Parentzone

Helpful videos:

There are a number of short films available on YouTube which you may find helpful to watch as a parent or carer of a child or young person.