Child sexual exploitation awareness

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a form of child abuse, which can happen to boys and girls from any background or community. It can range from seemingly 'consensual' relationships, informal exchanges of sex in order to get affection, accommodation or gifts, through to exploitation by gangs involved in serious, organised crime.

Child sexual exploitation has a devastating impact on children, young people and their families. It is largely a hidden crime, and raising awareness of this type of abuse is essential to preventing it and stopping it early when it does happen.

What is the council doing?

Councils play a crucial role in safeguarding children, including tackling child sexual exploitation. However they cannot do this alone. They need the co-operation of the wider community and partner agencies.

We are working to raise awareness so that our staff, partner agencies and the wider community can recognise the signs of child sexual exploitation and know what to do if they have concerns.

We are also working with the police to offer guidance and training, including taxi drivers and accommodation providers.

Key risk factors and warning signs

There is no set formula for identifying child sexual exploitation, but the following have been identified as factors that may make children and young people more vulnerable to abuse:

  • Living in a chaotic or dysfunctional household (including parental substance use, domestic violence, parental mental health issues, parental criminality).
  • History of abuse.
  • Recent bereavement or loss.
  • Gang association.
  • Attending school with children and young people who are already sexually exploited.
  • Learning disabilities.
  • Unsure about their sexual orientation or unable to disclose their sexual orientation to their families.
  • Friends with young people who are sexually exploited.
  • Homeless.
  • Lacking friends from the same age group.
  • Living in a gang neighbourhood.
  • Living in residential care.
  • Living in hostel, bed and breakfast accommodation or a foyer.
  • Low self-esteem or self-confidence.
  • Young carer.

A child who is already being sexually exploited may show the following signs and behaviours:

  • Missing from home or care.
  • Physical injuries.
  • Drug or alcohol misuse.
  • Involvement in offending.
  • Repeat sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy and terminations.
  • Absent from school.
  • Change in physical appearance.
  • Evidence of sexual bullying (can be through the internet and/or social networking).
  • Estranged from their family.
  • Receiving gifts from unknown sources.
  • Recruiting others into exploitative situations.
  • Poor mental health.
  • Self-harming.
  • Thoughts of or attempts at suicide.

Some facts about child sexual exploitation:

  • All children from all kinds of families can be sexually exploited.
  • The majority of sexually exploited children and young people will be hidden from view and it is difficult to quantify the number of children and young people who are abused in this way.
  • The average age for exploitation is getting younger from 15 to 13 years of age. Barnardo’s has worked with children as young as 10.
  • A child under the age of 13 is not legally capable of consenting to sexual activity.
  • Public areas such as parks and leisure centres are often used by perpetrators to targets victims.
  • Children from families where there may be problems can be targeted by perpetrators who identify a child’s vulnerabilities and exploit them.
  • The majority of victims are not ‘looked after’ children. It is estimated that only 20-25% of victims are ‘looked after’.
  • Because of the grooming methods used by their abusers, it is very common for children and young people who are sexually exploited not to recognise that they are being abused.
  • Girls and women can be both the groomers and the offenders.
  • Offenders come from all racial groups.
  • Individuals offend as well as groups.
  • Boys are often victims of sexual exploitation but they may find it harder to disclose that they are being abused by other men because of issues about sexual identity.
  • Children and young people can be trafficked from one street to another and within regions.

How to report a concern

If you are worried that a child or young person (under 18) may be at risk of child sexual exploitation call First Response (Staffordshire County Council) on 0800 131 3126.

Alternatively call Staffordshire Police Central Referrals Unit on 101 and ask for the MASH (Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub) or email

If you believe a child or young person is in immediate danger or in need of medical attention ring 999.

Useful Information