Child sexual exploitation – protecting children and young people

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child abuse. It happens when an individual or a group of people force, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under 18 into sexual activity. Child exploitation can also happen online without any physical contact between the abuser and victim.

Recognising child sexual exploitation

Child sexual exploitation can happen :

  • in what seems like a consensual relationship
  • when a young person has sex in return for attention, gifts, alcohol or drugs

This type of child sexual abuse can damage the child or young person's physical, emotional and psychological health.

Children and young people at risk of sexual exploitation

This type of abuse can happen to any young person from any background. It happens to:

  • girls and young women
  • boys and young men

Young people aged 16 and 17 can legally consent to sex, but can still be victims of sexual exploitation.

Noticing signs of child sexual exploitation

Children and young people often don't recognise they are being sexually exploited. It's important that those caring for them are aware of and recognise the signs. These can include the young person:

  • persistently going missing or returning late
  • being agitated or stressed before leaving home or care
  • returning distraught, dishevelled or under the influence of substances
  • receiving many texts or phone calls before going out
  • playing truant from school
  • showing signs of inappropriate sexualised behaviour for their age
  • having physical symptoms or infections such as bruising, bite marks or sexually transmitted infections
  • getting in to or leaving cars driven by unknown adults or taxis
  • having a significantly older ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’
  • acquiring items such as money or a mobile phone without a plausible explanation
  • leaving home or care without permission
  • having low self esteem
  • self harming or showing other signs of despair
  • showing signs of substance misuse

What to do if you suspect a child is being sexually exploited

If you suspect a child or young person is in immediate danger, telephone 999. In a non-emergency, you can contact the police by phoning 101.

If you're concerned about child sexual exploitation or want more information, you can contact a 24-hour helpline to get confidential advice and support:

  • telephone number: 0800 389 1701

Safeguarding Board

To get more information  including leaflets for young people, parents and carers, go to:

More useful links

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