Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

Child Sexual Exploitation is sexual abuse of children and young people under the age of 18 and it is illegal. CSE happens when children are encouraged (or forced) to take part in sexual activity and receive something in return.

The official definition of CSE from GOV.UK is:

“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. “

When a child is exploited into CSE there is no limit or parameters on what the child may receive in exchange, it might be material possessions such as money, drugs, alcohol or gifts. Or it may be something else like a safe place to stay, status, attention or affection. Whatever the child is offered in exchange for sexual activity, is likely to tap into a deep-seated need or aspiration and may not be easy for the child to refuse.

The perpetrators have power over the child by virtue of their age, intellect, gender, physical strength or their economic status. Violence, coercion and intimidation are common in cases of CSE as many perpetrators target children with vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities can be complex and varied but are usually economic or personal circumstances that leave a child with limited choices.

The child might be groomed into thinking they’re in a consensual relationship and may describe the perpetrator as being their boyfriend or girlfriend and not understand that they’re being abused. Such a relationship in the early stages might feel positive and rewarding at the beginning but later, the ‘relationship’ will descend into violence and intimidation towards the child.

CSE does not always involve a physical aspect, it can also happen through technology for example being told to send or post explicit images of themselves, filming sexual activities or having sexual conversations.


Some signs that a child is being exploited in CSE might include:

  • Going missing for periods of time, regularly returning home late or staying out late or overnight
  • Regularly missing school or not taking part in education.
  • Appearing with unexplained gifts, money or possessions.
  • Associating with other young people involved in exploitation.
  • Being in a controlling relationship or having an older boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Having a new group of friends
  • Suffering from sexually transmitted infections.
  • Pregnancy
  • Uncharacteristic and significant mood swings or changes in emotional wellbeing.
  • Drug and alcohol misuse.
  • Spending time in CSE hotspots.
  • Being secretive.
  • Changes in behaviour.
  • Self-harming.
  • Displaying unhealthy or inappropriate sexualised behaviour or language.
  • Use of mobile phone and internet that causes concern.
  • Involved with or linked to gang activity.
  • Being frightened of certain people, places or situations.
  • Physical signs of abuse, such as bruising or bleeding in the genital or anal area

Please remember that a child cannot consent to their own exploitation.

As professionals it’s important to remember that exploitation is a form of child abuse and the boundaries may at first seem unclear when intervening with and supporting exploited children. The young people may be viewed at first glance as perpetrators or criminals but it is vital to recognise that they are usually victims as well.

How to respond

If you think a child is in immediate danger always call the emergency services on 999.

To discuss a non-emergency matter with the Police call 101.

If you are concerned that a child or young person is being harmed or is at risk of harm, but there is no immediate danger, or you need advice or information, please call Coventry Children's Services at the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) on 024 7678 8555.

Out of office hours please call the Emergency Duty Team on 024 7683 2222

MASH for visiting service users

Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub

Address: Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub
Coventry City Council Customer Service Centre
3 Upper Precinct

Telephone: 024 7678 8555