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What is child sexual abuse and exploitation

Each year, thousands of young people are sexually abused in the UK. They often keep it a secret. Many don't understand what is happening. Together, we can stop child sexual abuse and exploitation. By understanding how it happens, knowing how to spot the signs and learning how to report it, we can help more children break free and live a life full of hope and confidence.

Difference between child sexual abuse and exploitation

What is the difference between child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation?

How does child sexual exploitation work? 

boy head on wall looking up side profile

How does child sexual exploitation work? 

Sexual exploitation can happen online or in person. Regardless of where it takes place, the abuser has the same goal — to deceive the child or young person into trusting them. Once they have managed this, they can sexually abuse them. This can happen quicker than you might think.

Abusers will try to get children and young people to send them sexually explicit images, have sexual conversations or film or stream sexual activities. These can then be used to threaten them or blackmail them into taking part in other sexual activities. On top of this they may share these photos or videos online.

What are the signs of child sexual exploitation?

While every case is different there are certain behaviours that could indicate a child is being exploited.

Some of the most common signs of CSE include: 

  • skipping school or getting in trouble in class
  • going missing for periods of time or coming back from things late regularly
  • mood swings that seem out of the ordinary 
  • having gifts that can’t be accounted for 
  • over sexualised behaviour, such as dressing provocatively or sending inappropriate images from their mobile phone
  • using drugs and/or alcohol
  • unexplained bruising or other signs of physical harm.
girl smiling in park

I'm in a
better place

I'm in abetter place

After years of being trapped in a cycle of exploitation and abuse, Lauren has broken free from her abusers. She now feels happy, confident and ready to help others.

Why are children more likely to be exploited? 

Whether it is age, position or status, there is an imbalance of power that means children are more likely to be targeted. Abusers will spend days, weeks, hours and sometimes years forming an emotional attachment with their victim before the abuse takes place. This makes threats more powerful and the bond harder to break 

Often their abuser gives them a feeling of acceptance or something else missing in their lives. Perhaps they are struggling to make friends in school, or they can’t get a boyfriend or girlfriend. The abuser gives them a way out or a false sense of pride.

What pushes a child to be more at risk? 

What puts a child more at risk? 

There are often things going on in a young person’s life that makes them more at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation. 

The most common involve problems at home. When parents are fighting a child might look for any possible escape route. Also, children with physical or learning impairment are more likely to be targeted by abusers.

Our practitioners work closely with families to understand these push factors and make changes so the child feels safe. 

girl walking looking back worried

How to report child sexual exploitation

If you think a child is being sexually exploited, don’t confront the abuser, report it to the authorities immediately.  

If you think a child is in danger, call the police on 999.

The young person might initially not want to give up the relationship they have developed with the abuser. They don’t want to lose the affection, excitement or a person who they feel listens to and understands them. Give them time and reassurance. With the right support, they will break free from their abuse.