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5.1 Child Sexual Exploitation: Guidance

This procedure was updated on 03/12/21 and is currently uptodate.

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This document is a practical tool to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation (CSE), what it is and how it can be recognised. It is also a reminder that exploitation is a crime and that the guidance set out in Working Together to Safeguard Children should be adopted when responding to identified concerns.


This document should be read in conjunction with any specific CSE guidance or procedures issued by your own sector or agency.


It should also be read in conjunction with the Buckinghamshire Strategy for Tackling CSE which sets out a Buckinghamshire vision for tackling CSE and provides further detail on the prevalence of CSE both nationally and locally.



CSE is a form of child abuse that is often hidden from sight, can be difficult to identify, and harder still to stop. CSE can happen to both girls and boys, and victims are found across all socio-economic and ethnic groups.


This guidance adopts the statutory definition for Child Sexual Exploitation agreed in February 2017: 

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.”


A common feature of CSE is that the child or young person does not recognise the coercive nature of the relationship and does not see themselves as a victim of exploitation. CSE is a form of child sexual abuse, but what differentiates it from other forms of abuse is the concept of exchange - the fact that the young person or the person abusing them receives something in return for the abusive act.


Allegations of child sexual exploitation can also be made by adults and young people a long time after the abuse has occurred (see Delayed Reporting procedure).

Type of Exploitation


Research has identified[1] a number of categories of CSE. While there is variation between research reports, the list below summarises the variety of forms that CSE can take.

  • Inappropriate relationships: This usually involves one perpetrator who has inappropriate power or control over a child, whether this is physical, emotional or financial control. One indicator of an inappropriate relationship may be a significant age gap, even if the child believes that they are in a loving relationship.
  • Boyfriend model: The perpetrator befriends and grooms a child into a seemingly loving ‘relationship’, often involving gifts and outings to cause infatuation. They initiate a sexual relationship with the child, which the child is expected to return as proof of his/her love or as a way of returning the initial attention and gifts. The child is then told they owe the perpetrator money for cigarettes, alcohol, drugs etc. and that sexual activities are one way of paying it back. The child is then coerced into having sex with friends or associates often by threats of violence towards themselves or their loved ones.
  • Party model: Parties are organised by groups of men to lure children. Children are offered drinks, drugs and car rides often for free. They are introduced to an exciting environment and a culture where sexual promiscuity and violence is normalised. Parties are held at various locations and children are persuaded (sometimes financially) to bring their peers along. Children are also encouraged to associate with others via social media. The parties may be held some distance from the child’s home, enabling the perpetrators to force the child to have sex in return for a lift home. Drugs and alcohol are used to suppress the children’s resistance. Images may be taken of them without their clothes for purpose of future bribery.
  • Organised/networked sexual exploitation or trafficking: Children who are often connected to one another are passed through networks, possibly over geographical distances, between towns and cities where they may be forced or coerced into sexual activity with numerous men.
  •  Peer on peer[2]: In such cases both victim and perpetrator are under 18. A quarter of CSE cases are peer-on-peer as opposed to adult on child.[3] Where the perpetrator is also a child, it is important to recognise that they are also likely to be victims of abuse themselves, and will need to be supported as such. This may require a safeguarding response. Keeping Children Safe in Education includes detail about awareness of peer-on-peer abuse and the importance of challenging it.
  • Exploitation linked to poverty and exclusion: Grooming is not necessarily involved, but there is opportunistic abuse of a child in need of help. For example, the offer of accommodation to a runaway in exchange for sex. The child tends to view this arrangement, not as exploitation, but rather as a short term survival mechanism.
  • Online: Technology is widely used by perpetrators as a method of grooming and coercing victims, often through social networking, and this is now the biggest location threat for CSE within the Thames Valley. The abuser may pose as another child or an adult. The abuser may talk to the child via a web cam, striking up a relationship and encouraging them to pose or send indecent images of themselves, take part in sexual activities via a webcam or smartphone, or have sexual conversations by text or online. Explicit images will be stored and shared with other abusers or used as a form of blackmail to pressurise the child.
  • Gang Associated CSE[4]: Sexual violence can occur within or between gangs but professionals often fail to classify this activity as CSE. Sexual exploitation may be evident in gangs in the following forms:
    • Inter-gang exploitation – punishment/retribution/threat or ad hoc and opportunistic
    • Intra-gang exploitation – punishment, set up scenarios or the initiation of males.

This list is not exhaustive and there is no typical CSE case. It is crucial that professionals remain aware of the different forms CSE can take, including as technology and perpetrator tactics evolve over time. Professionals should also be aware that where CSE is the presenting issue there may also be other issues that also need consideration. For example where CSE is related to gang activity, a relevant partnership response needs to be developed in relation to both.



Professionals should recognise that young people at risk of, or victims of, CSE will also be affected by other issues and may come to the attention of other services as a result of these issues.


Any child or young person may be at risk of sexual exploitation, regardless of their family background, ethnicity, or other circumstances. However, there are strong links between children involved in CSE and other behaviours such as absconding or going missing from home or care, missing education, bullying, self-harm, substance misuse, repeated access to emergency hormonal contraception (EHC), attendance at sexual health services for repeated sexually transmitted infections (STIs), abortion and accessing contraceptive service under the age of 16 years. These behaviours, particularly in isolation, will not always be linked to CSE. However, professionals should be aware of the potential link, particularly in cases where a number of these behaviours are present together.


Warning signs can include the following:

  • Evidence of drug, alcohol and/or substance use – abusers may use drugs and alcohol to help control children and young people.
  • Unexplained physical injuries or suffering from physical injuries (e.g. 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.
  • Children or young people displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviours, such as being over-familiar with strangers or sending sexualised images via the internet or mobile phone.
  • Changes in physical appearance (e.g. losing weight, being malnourished).


  • Being absent and truanting from school or showing signs of disengagement, e.g. lack of interest and frequent poor behaviour.
  • Considerable change in performance.

Emotional and behavioural development

  • Changes in temperament/depression – mood swings or changes in emotional wellbeing, secretive behaviour.
  • Peers and friends – association with other young people involved in exploitation and with older boyfriends/girlfriends.
  • Getting involved in petty crime such as shoplifting or stealing.


  • Appearing with unexplained gifts or new possessions.
  • Change in appearance, e.g. different clothes.

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.
  • Phone calls and/or text messages from unknown adults.
  • Children or young people who appear to be recruiting others into exploitive situations.

Some children are more vulnerable to CSE. Additional risk factors such as those listed below can make children easier to target or make it easier to build relationships that are exploitative.


These risk factors include children or young people who:

  • have a disrupted family life
  • live in a chaotic or dysfunctional family
  • have a history of domestic abuse within the family environment
  • have a history of abuse (including familial child sexual abuse, risk of forced marriage, risk of honour-based violence, physical and emotional abuse, and neglect)
  • have poor mental health
  • have social or learning difficulties
  • have low self-esteem or self-confidence
  • misuse alcohol and/or drugs
  • have experienced or are experiencing problematic parenting
  • have parents who misuse drugs or alcohol
  • have parents with health problems
  • are young carers within the family unit
  • have unsupervised use of social networking chat rooms/sites
  • experience social exclusion as a result of poverty
  • live in care, hostels or bed and breakfast accommodation
  • are homeless
  • are migrant or unaccompanied asylum seeking children
  • live in residential or foster care
  • 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.



There is no simple link between CSE and ethnicity. However, there are some issues that need to be considered, both in relation to perpetrators and victims.


Perpetrators: A number of high profile CSE cases that have gone to court have involved groups of Asian men, and the Home Office describes a widespread perception that the majority of perpetrators are of Asian, British Asian or Muslim origin. However, the vast majority of convicted sex offenders are White British.[5]


It is likely that different perpetrator profiles may be linked more strongly to particular forms of CSE. Professionals need to be aware that perpetrators can come from all ethnic groups and it is important not to generalise or stereotype. However, it is also important that people do not hold back from raising concerns about CSE because they are concerned about being labelled as racist.


Victims: Victims of CSE can come from any ethnic background. However, professionals need to recognise that for victims from some black and minority ethnic groups there can be additional complexities linked to their cultural and ethnic background. This can include victims being alienated or ostracised by their own family or community if they speak out. In particular victims from South Asian communities may come under pressure not to speak out about abuse. Issues of "honour and shame". Play a large part, especially the ‘honour’ of women and girls. Recent research[6] revealed that Asian girls who were being sexually exploited were most vulnerable to offenders from their own communities who manipulated cultural norms to prevent them from reporting their abuse. Research[7] also found that there was under identification by professionals of ethnic minority victims of CSE, these being generally hidden within youth justice services.

Exploitation perpetrated by children


The definition of sexual exploitation is the same regardless of whether it is perpetrated by an adult or a child. Professionals should be aware that in approximately 25% of CSE cases, both the victim and the perpetrator are under 18.


It is important for agencies to be aware that a child or young person who has harmed another may also be a victim. The potential vulnerability of a child perpetrator needs to be assessed and appropriate support provided.


For further information, see the BSCP procedure on Children who exhibit problematic/harmful sexual behaviour.



The principles of Working Together to Safeguard Children should be adopted when responding to reports of child sexual exploitation. Action should be focused on the child’s needs, including consideration of children with particular needs or sensitivities, and that children and young people do not always acknowledge what may be an exploitative and/or abusive situation.


The usual BSCP procedures for responding to concerns of abuse and neglect should be followed whatever the nature of the safeguarding concern


Where need is identified at level 2, in line with the referral flow diagram, agencies should seek to provide support themselves, or signpost to other appropriate organisations. The diagram below shows what happens where need is felt to have reached level 3 or 4.


Where CSE is the presenting issues, but other factors are also present, such as missing episodes or gang involvement, the multi-agency response should take account of all factors.


In cases where CSE is perpetrated by another child, professionals should consider a safeguarding response for the perpetrator by following the usual procedures for responding to concerns of abuses and neglect.


See BSCP procedure on Delayed reporting for require response to allegations of historical abuse.

Multi-Agency Child Exploitation (MACE) meeting


MACE is a multi-agency risk management meeting that seeks to ensure that children living in Buckinghamshire are effectively safeguarded and protected from harm in cases where:

  • they are, or might be, victims of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

  • they are high-risk missing children or children who regularly go missing.

Partner agencies come together to share information and set actions to address the potential or recognised risk to a child who has been, or could become, subject to sexual exploitation or who is a ‘High Risk’ or ‘Regular’ Missing Person. This meeting is intended to share intelligence, provide early intervention, reduce the risk to the child and consider how harmful activities can be disrupted.


MACE does not replace the provisions of Section 17 (Child in Need) or 47 (Child in need of protection) of the Children Act. It complements these statutory processes by ensuring that the bigger picture is considered, that action to safeguard is being completed and the appropriate multi-agency response is in place.


Further details can be found in the Multi - Agency Child Exploitation Protocol 2021 click link:

The Missing and Exploitation Hub


The Missing and Exploitation Hub is a multi-agency team whose function is to provide a collective approach to combating child exploitation in Buckinghamshire.


The Missing and Exploitation Hub is made up of;

  • Buckinghamshire Children’s Social Care
  • Thames Valley Police
  • Youth Offending Service
  • Barnardos RU Safe
  • Buckinghamshire Healthcare Trust
  • The Hub also links with the Education Safeguarding Advisory Service.


Partners work together to;  

  • Raise awareness of exploitation through training
  • Offer expert consultation and analysis
  • Provide specialist input to care planning for children
  • Help identify contextual risks and “map” known intelligence
  • Gather and share intelligence from within and out of county
  • Collate data to create a local understanding of need
  • Support completion of and track National Referral Mechanism Forms (NRMs)
  • Increase understanding of geographical “hotspots”
  • Keep up to date with current practice research and themes



Further details can be found in the Multi-Agency Child Exploitation Protocol 2021.

Information Sharing


Within the context of sexual exploitation it is recognised that no one partner holds all the information required to effectively assess the needs or fully assess the risk of serious harm to children and young people. Also, in the majority of cases the support of more than one agency is required to ensure the longer term safety and support of children and young people. Following the procedures outlined above, should ensure that concerns are raised and discussed and that information is shared appropriately.


Information should always be shared in line with the BSCP Information Sharing Code of Practice and the Government’s information sharing advice for safeguarding practitioners.

Related Documents and links

Related Policies, Procedures, and Guidance


[1] For example, Barnardo’s, 2011. Puppet on a string: The urgent need to cut children free from sexual exploitation; University of Bedfordshire, 2011. What’s going on, and University of Bedfordshire, 2012. Research into gang-associated sexual exploitation and sexual violence

[2] Firmin, C and Curtis, G, 2015. Practitioner Briefing #1: What is Peer on Peer Abuse provides further information on peer on peer abuse.

[3] Berelowitz et al, 2013. “If only someone had listened” Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups

[4] A number of reports provide more detailed information on gang associated CSE including the following:
Beckett, H et al. (2013). It's wrong but you get used to it: A qualitative study of gang-associated sexual violence towards, and sexual exploitation of, young people in England. Firmin, C (2011). This is it. This is my life... Female Voice in Violence Final Report.

[5] House of Commons (2013) Home Affairs Committee – Second Report: Child Sexual Exploitation and the response to localised grooming

[6] Shaista Gohir (2013) Unheard Voices: The Sexual Exploitation of Asian Girls and Young Women

[7] Beckett, H et al. (2013). It's wrong but you get used to it: A qualitative study of gang-associated sexual violence towards, and sexual exploitation of, young people in England.

This page is correct as printed on Friday 3rd of December 2021 10:29:15 PM please refer back to this website ( for updates.