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Sexual Exploitation

What is sexual exploitation? 

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a type of sexual abuse. When a child or young person is exploited, they're given things, like gifts, drugs, money, status, and affection, in exchange for performing sexual activities. Children and young people are often tricked into believing they're in a loving and consensual relationship. This is called grooming. They may trust their abuser and not understand that they're being abused. 

Children and young people can be trafficked into or within the UK to be sexually exploited. They're moved around the country and abused by being forced to take part in sexual activities, often with more than one person. Young people in gangs can also be sexually exploited. Sometimes abusers use violence and intimidation to frighten or force a child or young person, making them feel as if they've no choice. They may lend them large sums of money they know can't be repaid or use financial abuse to control them. 

Anybody can be a perpetrator of CSE, no matter their age, gender, or race. The relationship could be framed as friendship, someone to look up to or romantic. Children and young people who are exploited may also be used to 'find' or coerce others to join groups. 

Signs of child sexual exploitation 

Sexual exploitation can be difficult to spot and sometimes mistaken for "normal" teenage behaviour. Knowing the signs can help protect children and help them when they've no one else to turn to. 

  • Unhealthy or inappropriate sexual behaviour. 
  • Being frightened of some people, places, or situations. 
  • Bring secretive. 
  • Sharp changes in mood or character 
  • Having money or things they can't or won't explain. 
  • Physical signs of abuse, like bruises or bleeding in their genital or anal area. 
  • Alcohol or drug misuse. 
  • Sexually transmitted infections. 
  • Pregnancy. 

How might we recognise if children and young people are vulnerable to exploitation.  

Safeguarding children and young people is everyone's responsibility. Being aware of possible indicators is important. The list below is not exhaustive but offers some examples of warning signs to look out for: 

  • Missing from home or car 
  • Absent from school. 
  • Offending or anti-social behaviour. 
  • Drug or alcohol misuse. 
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), pregnancies and terminations. 
  • Poor mental health. 
  • Self-harm and/or thoughts or attempts at suicide. 
  • Receipt of gifts/money/alcohol/drugs etc from unknown sources. 
  • Changes in physical appearance or physical complaints. 
  • Physical injuries. 
  • Evidence of sexting, online bullying and/or vulnerability through the internet and/or social networking sites. 
  • Estranged from family/friends/community. 
  • Recruiting others into exploitative situations. 
  • Having older friendship groups. 

If you are worried about a child? 

If you are worried that a child may be suffering significant harm, or if you are concerned that a child has suffered harm, neglect, or abuse, please follow the advice below. 

Members of the public can: 

Call 0345 140 0845 between 8am and 6pm (minicom 0151 934 4657). 

Contact the emergency duty team on 0151 934 3555 for urgent advice outside of office hours (from 5.30pm Mon to Thurs, and 4pm Friday and weekends). If you think a child is in immediate danger, call for police assistance. 

Support in Sefton 

For all referrals specially relating to Child Exploitation please complete the Multi Agency Screening Tool. Here is a helpful guide  on  when to complete a screening. This is in addition to the child referral form and securely email to: socialcare.customeraccessteam@sefton.gov.uk 


Last Updated on Monday, June 26, 2023

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