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Protecting children and young people from sexual exploitation

Child sexual exploitation is happening banner

Child sexual exploitation is happening. A service launched across Avon and Somerset and Wiltshire last year identified 160 children and young people who were at risk - all now are receiving support.

This page aims to give parents and people who work with children information about CSE and explain the signs. For further advice or information, there are a number of links and contact numbers for support agencies at the bottom of the page. Please do not wait to act on your concerns or be worried about telling someone - you will be listened to and taken seriously.

What is child sexual exploitation?

Some people form relationships with children or young people to use them for sex.

They pretend to be the young person’s friend, or a boyfriend or girlfriend, and manipulate them with bribes, threats, humiliation and even violence.

They use that power to force them to have sex, or do sexual things, with them and sometimes with other people.

This is sexual exploitation and it’s a crime.

Child sexual exploitation can happen to any child, or young person under the age of 18, from any background. It happens to boys and young men as well as girls and young women.

The NSPCC have created a short video as part of a campaign to raise awareness of sexual exploitation. Put together with the help of young people themselves, it shows how victims are first groomed by abusers and end up trapped in a nightmare of abuse and sexual exploitation.

Will a child tell me this is happening to them?

Most parents find it hard to believe this kind of thing could happen to their child. And if your child was dealing with something this awful, you'd know about it, wouldn't you?

Here's why it's unlikely your child would tell you or others:

  • The grooming process - perpetrators gain control over children by grooming them - it's an incredibly powerful process and many children don't stand a chance against it. Once a child does something - even something really small - that they know they might get 'in trouble' for, they become vulnerable to threats and coercion. So they get in deeper. The child comes to believe they are in a loving relationship with their exploiter - and is convinced that they are not loved or understood at home

  • Shame and guilt - children often believe the abuse is their own fault (especially if it occurred when they were using drugs or alcohol) and fear they will be blamed or punished for what has happened. They are frightened they could get into trouble from the police for accepting or handling drugs, or may even have developed a dependency on them. They will also feel ashamed of the sexual acts they have been coerced to participate in
  • Fear and blackmail - Exploited children are too frightened to tell anyone what is happening. Threats of violence are made not just to themselves, but towards their family members. They may be blackmailed by indecent images taken during the sexual exploitation. They think they still 'owe' the abuser/s for any gifts or substances they have received. They may fear for the perpetrators and what to protect them.

It's hard for anyone to imagine how bad CSE can be. And that is another reason a child who is being exploited might not tell you - they can't see how you could possibly believe them.

Signs of child sexual exploitation

For the reasons above, it's vital we all look out for the signs of CSE.

Over time, grooming changes a child's behaviour. The problem is that these changes can look a lot like typical teenage behaviour. Pace (Parents Against Child Exploitation) suggests getting advice if your child exhibits three or more of the following warning signs:

  • Becomes especially secretive; stops seeing their usual friends; has really sharp, severe mood swings
  • Develops relationships with older men and/or women (although not all perpetrators are older)
  • Goes missing from home and is reluctant to say where they have been or what they have been doing. Stays out all night
  • Receives calls and messages from outside their normal circle of friends
  • Has new, expensive items that they couldn't afford, such as mobile phones, iPods or jewellery - as well as 'invisible' or 'virtual' gifts such as phone credit and online gaming credits
  • Suddenly changes their taste in dress or music
  • Looks tired or unwell and sleeps at unusual hours
  • Has marks or scars on their body, which they try to hide

For more information about the signs of child sexual exploitation visit our advice page

Children and young people can be targeted for sexual exploitation via the internet and social networking sites. This is online grooming.  

Our advice for parents and carers is to talk to children and young people about using the internet safely, reminding them to be careful of who they accept or add as a friend online because people aren't always who they say they are. Read more tips about talking to children about online safety or visit our internet safety advice pages.

To report online grooming to the police, visit the CEOP safety centre .

What are the police doing to stop child sexual exploitation?

We are committed to protecting children and young people from sexual exploitation and work closely with our partners to support victims. Read more about some of our recent CSE partnership work.

We have secured convictions against people who abuse children and young people in this way, and continue to target offenders.

Our officers and staff have also received training on how to identify vulnerable children and young people, and spot the signs of sexual exploitation.

We want to help young people understand the nature of abuse and empower them with knowledge so they can distinguish between healthy and unhealthy relationships. Officers visit local schools and colleges to deliver our 'Only Yes Means Yes' lesson plan on rape and consent, and we recently surveyed over 400 young people to gather their views and experiences on issues around love, life and the internet.

poster with signs of child sexual exploitation
poster with signs of child sexual exploitation

Reporting child sexual exploitation

If you suspect a child or young person may be at risk, or have any information relating to child sexual exploitation, contact us.

We would prefer to speak to you on the phone (by calling us on 101) or in person. However, if contacting us online is the safest way for you to get in touch, you can complete our secure online reporting form.

Please don’t be worried about talking to the police, you will always be listened to and taken seriously and we will do everything we can to help you. 

Important: If you know or suspect a child or young person is in immediate danger, you should dial 999 straight away.

Help and support

NSPCC

The NSPCC provide a wide range of services for both children, young people and adults, including national helplines staffed by trained helpline counsellors for 24/7 help and advice.

0800 1111 (ChildLine)
0808 800 5000 (Support for parents and carers)
NSPCC website

Barnardo’s

Children’s charity Barnardo’s support children, young people and families affected by issues such as sexual exploitation and domestic abuse.

BASE (Barnardo's Against Sexual Exploitation) is a Barnardo’s project in Bristol which supports victims of child sexual exploitation.

Barnados website

Advice for young people

Thinkuknow

A website for children and young people. Gives honest and frank advice on topics including sex and relationships, and the internet.

Thinkuknow website

CEOP safety centre

If someone has acted inappropriately online towards you, a child or young person, or someone you know, find out what to do, and how to report it to police, by visiting the CEOP safety centre.

CEOP website