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Sexual exploitation is a horrific form of sexual abuse that affects thousands of children and young people every year in the UK, when young people under 18 receive ‘something’ (food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) in exchange for performing, and/or others performing on them, sexual activities. It can happen to any young person from any background and affects boys and young men as well as girls and young women.

CSE can occur through the use of technology without the child’s immediate recognition, for example the persuasion to post sexual images on the internet/mobile phones with no immediate payment or gain. In all cases those exploiting the child/young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and /or economic or other resources.

There are 3 important and recognisable elements of child sexual exploitation:

  • Children are ‘groomed’ and there is power and control held by the perpetrator/s

  • An ‘exchange’ (such as gift, food, money, drugs etc.) is present, this could be to a third party and not always to the child themselves

  • Sexual acts or the exchange of sexual images is present


Impact

Sexual exploitation can seriously affect a victim’s life into adulthood. Victims may also suffer sexual and reproductive health problems as a result of the exploitation they have suffered. Even when children or young people appear to have recovered or overcome the psychological, physical and emotional effects suffered from the sexual exploitation, they may still be unable to stay in the area where they live if it has associations with the abuse against them.


What is it?

The sexual exploitation of children and young people can be seen in varied forms which can be described through understanding models of CSE.  It is important to recognise that these models do not necessarily work in isolation and various models can be operating concurrently. These models are an amalgamation of models reported by Barnardo’s, Children’s Society and Safe & Sound


This usually involves one perpetrator who has inappropriate power or control over a young person, such as being physically older, stronger or wealthier or in a position of power e.g. teacher or community leader.  This person will be having some form of a sexual relationship with the young person.  This can include familial abuse where a family member is exploiting their child, sibling for some ‘gain’, including third party gain.  The abuser may also be vulnerable due to mental health issues, drug and alcohol dependency or a previous, and/or current, experience of exploitation themselves.


This model includes the sex trafficking of children and young people across international borders as well as across internal borders, it can include the moving of children and young people between houses or hotels within the same town/district, for the purposes of passing children and young people to and amongst one or more sexual perpetrators. This includes larger networks of organised crime with the purposes of ‘selling’ children and young people. Young people themselves can be exploited into ‘recruitment’ of other children and young people, including for the purposes of ‘sex parties’ arranged by the perpetrators. Such parties offer substances and alcohol to young people, and may involve web cams to record and stream sexual acts.  Young people may be manipulated and blackmailed through indecent images obtained or allegations of a drug debt following the party, this can also be found in the gangs and peer on peer models.


Sexual exploitation can occur through gangs and groups; this can be through gang initiation rituals, threats of violence and bullying, or as a punishment for crossing gang areas for example. Females can be found to be exploited through ‘honey trapping’, whereby a woman is tasked to infiltrate another gang through sexual advances.  Young males may be forced to have sex with older women or women of similar ages in order to prove masculinity or with adult males as a form of punishment.  Both genders may drug run for the gang and this can involve ‘plugging’ where by substances are transported in their anus.  It has been found that the retrieval of substances can be sexually humiliating.  Young people can themselves be exploited into recruiting other young people into gangs, exposing others to risks of gang violence and sexual exploitation. 


Sexual exploitation can happen amongst young people of a similar age, and is often referred to as ‘sexual bullying’ (Children’s Society, 2015).  Some young people will befriend other young people and make them believe they are in a loving ‘relationship’ or ‘friendship’, they are then coerced into having sex with friends or associates.  Peer on peer model can sometimes be related to ‘gangs and group activity’.  Peer on peer sexual exploitation can include the abuse happening in public, by one or more perpetrators, and/or be filmed and distributed.  In all cases of peer on peer exploitation, a power imbalance will still inform the relationship, but this might not necessarily be through an age gap between the abuser and the abused.


Often referred to as the ‘Boyfriend’ Model, this model involves the befriending and grooming of a child or young person by an older adult.  This grooming process often revolves around the child and young person’s vulnerabilities and building the child or young person to believe that they are in a loving relationship.  The young person may then be passed to other known adults to the ‘boyfriend’/ ‘girlfriend’ merging into the gang or organised network models.


Children and young people are subject to many risks when they are accessing on-line activities and this includes the risk of sexual exploitation.  This can include adults and peers deceiving and exploiting children and young people into producing sexual images of themselves, engaging in sexual chat online or sexual activity over a webcam.   Children and young people can be groomed on-line by sexual perpetrators and manipulated and coerced to meet up secretly, or images can be screen-shot and saved to blackmail young people, which can be frightening and intimidating.


Any young person regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity and sexuality can be at risk of being sexually exploited. However, there are a number of factors that can increase a young person’s vulnerability.

These include children or young people who:

  • Go missing, especially on regular occasions from home or care.
  • Live in a chaotic or dysfunctional family.
  • Have a history of domestic abuse within the family environment.
  • Have a history of abuse (including child sexual abuse, risk of forced marriage, risk of honour-based violence, physical and emotional abuse and neglect).
  • Have experienced or are experiencing problematic parenting.
  • Have parents who take drugs and/or who are alcohol-dependent.
  • Have parents with health problems.
  • Are young carers within the family unit.
  • Experience social exclusion as a result of poverty.
  • Have experienced recent bereavement or loss.
  • Have unsupervised use of social networking chat rooms/sites.
  • Have mental ill health.
  • Have social or learning difficulties.
  • Have low self-esteem or self-confidence.
  • Are unsure about their sexual orientation or are unable to confide in their family about their sexual orientation.
  • Misuse alcohol and/or drugs.
  • Have been or are excluded from mainstream education.
  • Are involved in gang activity.    
  • Attend school with other young people who are sexually exploited.
  • Are friends with individuals who are sexually exploited.
  • Do not have friends in the same age group.
  • Are being bullied.
  • Live in care, foster care, hostels and/or bed and breakfast accommodation – particularly when living out of their home area.
  • Are homeless.
  • Have associations with gangs through relatives, peers or intimate relationships.
  • Live in a gang neighbourhood.
  • Children from loving and secure homes can also be victims of sexual exploitation. The characteristics common to all victims are not always their age, ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation, but their powerlessness and vulnerability. 

Know the Signs

Children and young people who are victims of sexual exploitation often do not recognise they are being exploited. However, there are a number of signs that could indicate a child is being groomed.

Emotional and behavioural development

  • Changes in temperament or suffering from depression, mood swings or changes in emotional wellbeing.

  • Secretive behaviour.

  • Association with other young people involved in exploitation and having older boyfriends/girlfriends.

  • Getting involved in petty crime such as shoplifting or stealing.

  • Education

  • Being absent and truanting, lack of interest and frequent poor behaviour.

  • Considerable change in performance.

Identity

  • Appearing with unexplained gifts or new possessions.

  • Change in appearance.

  • Family and social relationships

  • Children or young people who become estranged from their family.

  • Sudden hostility towards family members.

  • Becoming physically aggressive towards family and friends.

  • Going missing for periods of time or regularly returning home late.

  • Involvement in exploitative relationships or association with risky adults.

  • Young people being found in towns or districts where they have no known connection.

  • Young people who have more than one boyfriend or who share their boyfriend.

  • Children or young people seen entering or leaving vehicles driven by unknown adults.

  • Becoming detached from age-related activities and social groups.

  • Being sexually active.

  • Receiving phone calls and/or text messages from unknown adults.

  • Children or young people who appear to be recruiting others into exploitative situations.

Health

  • Evidence of drug, alcohol and/or substance use. Abusers may use drugs and alcohol to help control children and young people.

  • Unexplained physical injuries; for example, bruising suggestive of either physical or sexual assault.

  • Children or young people who are self-harming and demonstrating suicidal thoughts and tendencies.

  • Recurring sexually-transmitted infections.

  • Pregnancy or seeking an abortion.

  • Displaying inappropriate sexual behaviour, such as being over familiar with strangers or sending sexual images via the internet or mobile phones.


What to Do

Think you or a friend might have been sexually exploited?

Want some advice or someone to talk to? 

Visit our Getting Help page.

It’s ok to talk to someone. Exploitation is never your fault, even if you went along with things at first. Abusers are very clever in the way they manipulate children and young people. It is not ok for someone to expect you or your friends to do things that you don’t want to. If things don’t feel right then speak to someone about it.           


Say Something: 24/7, FREE, ANONYMOUS, CALL OR TXT 116000 #saysomething


If you are worried that you or someone else might be at immediate risk then call Essex Police: 999


You can contact Essex Police to report something you think doesn’t feel right on: 101


To report anonymously, call: 


Worried about something online? 

Licensing
How can Licensees manage the risk of child sexual exploitation (CSE) at their premises? Stay informed on our Licensing guidelines advice page.
CSE Toolbox

For professionals who work with children, young people and families, when they have concerns about child sexual exploitation:

(This includes access to the CSE Risk & Vulnerabilities Assessment)

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The exchange of sexually explicit images, this exchange can be done through mobile picture messages,  or webcams over the internet. Information from NSPCC to parents on sexting and how to talk to your child about sexting, what to do if your child has been affected by sexting.

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The risk of boys becoming victims of sexual exploitation by both male and female offenders is underestimated and less well understood than those relating to girls and young women. Boys and young men also face additional barriers to disclosing their experience because they may be coerced into engaging in heterosexual and homosexual sexual activity (even though they are heterosexual) as part of their abuse and may be worried they will not be believed, or be perceived as being gay when they are not.

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Consent is clearly agreeing through:

  • verbal communication - a discussion prior to the act or/and confirmation during the act; or

  • physical cues that indicate consent to participation in the individual sexual act, throughout the act.

One should presume that consent has not been given in the absence of clear, positive agreement.  The absence of "no" should not be understood to mean there is consent. Two important components when understanding consent is 'freedom to choose' and 'capacity to choose'.

Freedom to choose: Someone is unable to consent if they are pressured, threatened, fearful, forced are unable to get away.

Capacity to choose: Someone is unable to consent if they are under 13 years old, under substances or unconscious, have profound learning disabilities or severe mental health problems.

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Grooming

Making someone feel cared for, giving someone affection, building an emotional connection and trust with someone for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The grooming process can be over a long period of time or can happen quickly.  Grooming techniques can also be used on those associated with a victim.  Many victims do not recognise manipulative techniques used by the perpetrator.