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What is Child Sexual Exploitation

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse.

Sexual abuse may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside clothing. It may include non-contact activities, such as involving children in the production of sexual images, forcing children to look at sexual images or watch sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet).

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.

Child sexual exploitation: Definition and a guide for practitioners, local leaders and decision makers working to protect children from child sexual exploitation (Department for Education, February 2017)

Like all forms of child sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation:

  • can affect any child or young person (male or female) under the age of 18 years, including 16 and 17 year olds who can legally consent to have sex;
  • can still be abuse even if the sexual activity appears consensual;
  • can include both contact (penetrative and non-penetrative acts) and non-contact sexual activity;
  • can take place in person or via technology, or a combination of both;
  • can involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance and may, or may not, be accompanied by violence or threats of violence;
  • may occur without the child or young person’s immediate knowledge (through others copying videos or images they have created and posting on social media, for example);
  • can be perpetrated by individuals or groups, males or females, and children or adults. The abuse can be a one-off occurrence or a series of incidents over time, and range from opportunistic to complex organised abuse; and
  • is typified by some form of power imbalance in favour of those perpetrating the abuse. Whilst age may be the most obvious, this power imbalance can also be due to a range of other factors including gender, sexual identity, cognitive ability, physical strength, status, and access to economic or other resources.
Resources for Professionals

Appropriate Language: Child Sexual and/or Criminal Exploitation Guidance for Professionals

This document can be used by professionals when discussing the exploitation of children and young people, including when escalating intelligence and delivering training. The document can be read at the beginning of strategy meetings, multi-agency meetings, or other settings where professionals might be discussing children and young people who are at risk of exploitation.

CSE Leaflet for Professionals

CSE Warning Signs leaflet for professionals available in

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