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Each year in England thousands of children and young people are sexually abused. Media coverage of police investigations has brought child sexual abuse and exploitation to public attention.

But while police tackle the problem, CSE (child sexual exploitation) continues to happen every day. It’s important to understand what child sexual exploitation is and to be aware of the warning signs that may indicate a child you know is being exploited.

What is child sexual exploitation?

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a type of sexual abuse. Child sexual exploitation is when people use the power they have over young people to sexually abuse them. Their power may result from a difference in age, gender, intellect, strength, money. It is Illegal to take, show or distribute indecent photographs of children or to pay or arrange for sexual services from children under the age of 16.

Part of the challenge of tackling child sexual exploitation is that the children and young people involved may not understand what is happening to them.

Any child or young person can be a victim of sexual exploitation, but children are believed to be a great risk of being exploited if they are:

  • Have feelings of low self-esteem
  • Have had a recent bereavement or loss
  • Living in a chaotic or dysfunctional household
  • Lacking friends from the same age group
  • Learning disabilities
  • Being part of a gang
  • History of abuse

Spotting the signs of CSE

“Warning Signs” are an opportunity to prevent and protect, there are many ways we can spot the signs that a young person may be being sexually exploited, but even when young people present numerous indicators, it does not always mean they are being exploited.

  • Missing from home or care
  • Physical injuries
  • Secretive behaviour
  • Change in physical appearance and dress
  • Going on the internet late at night
  • Drug or alcohol miuse
  • Absent from school
  • Estranged from their family
  • Unexplained gifts and money including mobile phones

Preventing abuse

It is not always possible to prevent abuse from happening, below are listed a few steps that could help to keep a child safe:

  • Supervising internet, mobile and television use
  • Developing an open and trusting relationship, so they feel they can talk to you about anything
  • Helping children to understand their bodies and sex in a way that is appropriate for their age

What to do if you suspect a child is being sexually exploited

If you suspect that a child or young person has or is being sexually exploited, we recommend that you do not confront the alleged abuser. Confronting them may place the child in greater physical danger and may give the abuser time to confuse and threaten them into silence.

Instead, seek professional advice. Discuss your concerns with the police or an independent organisation, such as Safeline, we can help you to support your child and report matters to an appropriate organisation such as the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub

We are a specialised charity working to prevent sexual abuse and to support those affected in their recovery. Safeline provides a range of services including counselling, prevention projects, and support via our national helplines & online.

To get in touch you can contact us on either of the following:


For general enquiries call the office on 01926 402 498

Young people’s helpline: 0808 800 5007

Text or helpline and online advisors: 07860 027573


For general enquiries –

You can also email our helpline and online advisors –

Live Chat

If you would like to chat to one of our helpline and online advisors please click on the link below to access our online chat:

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