5.1 Child Sexual Exploitation: Guidance
- Introduction(Jump to)
- Definition(Jump to)
- Type of Exploitation(Jump to)
- Recognition(Jump to)
- Diversity(Jump to)
- Exploitation perpetrated by children(Jump to)
- Response(Jump to)
- Multi-agency Sexual Exploitation Risk Assessment Conference (MSERAC)(Jump to)
- The Swan Unit(Jump to)
- Information Sharing(Jump to)
- Related Documents and links(Jump to)
- Related Policies, Procedures, and Guidance(Jump to)
- Footnotes(Jump to)
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.
Type of Exploitation
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:
Emotional and behavioural development
Family and social relationships
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:
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.
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 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 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.
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 Sexual Exploitation Risk Assessment Conference (MSERAC)
M-SERAC 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:
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.
M-SERAC 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 M-SERAC Operating Procedure.
The Swan Unit
The Swan Unit is a multi-agency team based in Aylesbury Police Station. The Unit has five specific functions in relation to children at risk of CSE:
Further details can be found in the Swan Unit Operating Procedure.
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.
Related Documents and links
Related Policies, Procedures, and Guidance
- Child Sexual Exploitation Strategy
- M-SERAC (Missing and Sexual Exploitation Risk Assessment Conference) Operating Procedure
- Neglect Guidance
- Complex (Organised or Multiple) Abuse
- Individuals Who Pose a Risk of Harm to Children
- Delayed Reporting – Historical Abuse
- Children Who Exhibit Problematic/Harmful Sexual Behaviour
- Child Exploitation Indicator Tool & Pathway
 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
 Firmin, C and Curtis, G, 2015. Practitioner Briefing #1: What is Peer on Peer Abuse provides further information on peer on peer abuse.
 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
 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.
 House of Commons (2013) Home Affairs Committee – Second Report: Child Sexual Exploitation and the response to localised grooming
 Shaista Gohir (2013) Unheard Voices: The Sexual Exploitation of Asian Girls and Young Women
 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.