What is child sexual exploitation, CSE? 

What is CSE?

Learn about child sexual exploitation, the forms it takes and children who are at risk

Teenage boy

What does CSE stand for?

CSE stands for Child Sexual Exploitation and is a form of sexual, emotional and physical abuse of children.

It often involves the young person being given food, accommodation, drugs, affection, gifts or money in return for performing sexual activities.

Violence, coercion and intimidation are common in cases of CSE as many perpetrators target vulnerable young people.

This vulnerability is often due to economic or personal circumstances that leave young people with few choices.

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How many children and young people are affected by CSE?

There are no exact figures available, but we can gain an idea of the scale of this problem from some of the investigations done into CSE in recent years.

Child sexual exploitation statistics

How are people exploiting children?

1. Inappropriate relationships

These relationships usually involve one perpetrator who has power or control over a young person due to being physically stronger, older or wealthier. This can include familial abuse - when an older family member exploits their child or sibling.

The older relative may be vulnerable to CSE due to mental health problems, drug or alcohol dependency or previous experience of exploitation. Sometimes the relative may be forced or threatened into involving the young person in exploitation by someone else.

2. Older adult exploitation – often referred to as the ‘boyfriend’ model

The adult offender of CSE is usually at least five years older and befriends and grooms the young person by focusing on their vulnerabilities. The victim will initially feel they are in a positive and rewarding relationship with the perpetrator.

Power and control issues can lead to young people being isolated and becoming dependent on the ‘boyfriend’. They are often coerced or forced into sex with the perpetrator’s associates.

3. Trafficking

Young people are passed by perpetrators through networks, between towns and cities, where they may be forced or coerced into sexual activity with multiple people.

Young people are often used to recruit other young people to take part in so-called ‘sex parties’ where this can occur.

4. Peers

Trafficking sometimes involves the ‘buying and selling’ of young people by individuals involved in serious organised crime.

This is often referred to as sexual bullying. This form of CSE can happen quickly without the build-up of a relationship or the grooming process. Incidents may be filmed on mobile phones and circulated. Incidents may occur publicly or involve multiple perpetrators.

Over a quarter (28%) of perpetrators identified to the Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s Inquiry into Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups were under 19 years of age.

5. Gang and group exploitation

Young people in gangs or groups may be sexually exploited as part of gang initiation or as punishment. Young people may also be encouraged to recruit peers into the gang, exposing them to similar treatment of CSE and making it difficult to identify perpetrators who control the gang.

Who is committing these crimes?

Perpetrators of CSE may be:

  • An adult or another young person

  • Male or female

  • Any ethnicity

  • Visible in everyday life

  • Articulate, plausible and ‘savvy’

It is important to note that not all perpetrators of child sexual exploitation will involve money or gifts when they exploit young people.

How are children groomed online?

According to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre most offences of CSE take place online. These offences include deceiving children into producing indecent images of themselves, engaging in sexual chat online or sexual activity over a webcam.

Their research reveals that 13 and 14 year olds represent the largest single victim group of child sexual exploitation.

Risk of going online include:

  • Online grooming and child abuse

  • Access to age-inappropriate content

  • Bullying and cyberbullying

  • Personal information falling into the wrong hands

  • Talking to strangers or people who misrepresent themselves

  • People hacking their accounts.

It is important to note they may also be open to prosecution or recrimination from posting offensive or inappropriate comments online.

What can I do about child sexual exploitation?

See our webpage on what you can do to prevent CSE, what signs to look out for and who to contact if you think a child is at risk.

Donate to help us end child sexual exploitation

Children as young as 10 are being targeted for sexual exploitation in every type of community across the country.

Please donate today.

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