For more than two decades we have supported children who are victims or at risk of child sexual exploitation (CSE)

We’ve compiled some of the top questions that people have asked about this work.

What is child sexual exploitation?

Child sexual exploitation is a form of sexual abuse that can happen to any child under the age of 18. The term covers a range of exploitative situations where an abuser exerts control over a victim, either through physical force, threats of force, emotional manipulation or involvement in drugs or alcohol.

Victims will often be ‘groomed’ for a period of time before physical or sexual abuse takes place. It will usually involve a child (or a third person) receiving ‘something’ (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of engaging in sexual activity. This ‘something’ may be as simple as affection or attention – many victims are initially tricked into believing their abuser is a ‘boyfriend’.

In all cases, the abusers have power over children because of their age, gender, intellect, strength, or economic resources. Involvement in exploitative relationships is characterised by the child’s limited availability of choice resulting from their vulnerability. Child sexual exploitation can occur in a variety of settings including on the street, online, in institutions or in the home.

Why is stopping CSE so important?

Sexual exploitation results in serious suffering and harm. As well as the immediate harm resulting from abuse, sexual exploitation has damaging long term impacts on children’s mental health, physical health and development. Evidence shows that sexual abuse can lead to a range of long term issues including self-harm, eating disorders, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Substance misuse is also common, either because drugs or alcohol have been used to ‘control’ children as part of the grooming process, or because victims use substances to cope with the trauma. Abuse often results in poor sexual health or unwanted pregnancies.

How many children are at risk of CSE?

The Children’s Commissioner has reported that there were 2,409 confirmed victims of child sexual exploitation between August 2010 and October 2011. But sexual exploitation is often a hidden crime, and this is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg: thereare an estimated 16,500 children in England who are considered to be at high risk of sexual exploitation.

Why is The Children’s Society concerned about this issue?

We are concerned about CSE because we are committed to changing the lives of the most vulnerable children in society. Sexual exploitation can happen to any child, but perpetrators will often target those that are already vulnerable, for example children in care, those with difficult family lives, drugs or alcohol problems or with learning disabilities.

We have directly supported and campaigned on behalf of victims of sexual exploitation for two decades.  We have seen first-hand that victims suffer serious harm, both immediately and in the long-term. We have also seen how difficult it sometimes is for these children to get the support they need, and the life-changing difference the right help can make.

How do you know how this harms children?

We see the damage that sexual exploitation does to children every day through our direct work supporting victims and those vulnerable to abuse. But there is also a wealth of research – including from the Children’s Commissioner – that underlines the serious consequences of sexual exploitation.

What has The Children’s Society done to stop CSE?

We have directly supported and campaigned on behalf of victims of sexual exploitation for two decades. In the 1990s, we were one of the first organisations in the UK to campaign for young people involved in ‘child prostitution’ to be recognised as victims of sexual exploitation, rather than treated as criminals. We have continued to campaign for wider recognition of the scale and impact of child sexual exploitation and for greater support for victims.

We have services across the country – in Manchester, Birmingham, London and elsewhere – that directly support children at risk of CSE through prevention work, as well as direct work supporting young people affected by it. We also provide training to professionals in schools, the police, social services and other agencies.

Some of our prevention work is aimed at young people in schools. For example, we deliver workshops and assemblies about healthy relationships and protective behaviours.  We also carry out more targeted preventative work with those young people at high risk of sexual abuse, for example those in care or recently leaving custody. We have specialist services working with groups such as boys and young men and people with learning difficulties.

Our work with victims of sexual exploitation supports children through the entire journey; from identifying that abuse is taking place, preventing abuse from escalating and helping them deal with the consequences of abuse, through to supporting them through the court process.

Who is at risk of sexual exploitation?

Sexual exploitation can happen to any child, regardless of their background, age, ethnicity or gender. But there are some groups that are particularly vulnerable.

All children under the age of 18 can be subject to sexual exploitation, but the peak age is around 15 years old. Although sexual exploitation happens to both boys and girls in significant numbers, the vast majority of known victims are girls.

Other vulnerable children include those who live in care, regularly go missing, have a history of abuse, have a difficult family life, have a disability or have experience bereavement.

What can I do to stop child sexual exploitation?

Many things. Please visit our What you can do to stop child sexual exploitation page.

Can I donate to support your work?

Yes. Please visit our donate page.