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Child sexual exploitation

Child sexual exploitation involves situations, contexts or relationships in which a person under 18 is given something, such as food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts or money in return for performing sexual activities or having sexual activities performed on them. It can also involve violence, coercion and intimidation, with threats of physical harm or humiliation.

Common patterns In all cases of child sexual exploitation (CSE), the person exploiting the child or young person is able to create the impression of authority over them in some form. This could be because of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength or economic situation.

Sexual exploitation of children can start through the use of technology, without them immediately realising. For example, they might be persuaded to post images on the internet or via mobile phone without immediate payment or personal gain. Violence, coercion and intimidation are common, with a particular vulnerability of the child or young person being used against them. This can make the young person feel as though they have no choice but to continue the relationship.

Warning signs Signs of a child or young person being in an exploitative relationship can vary. Some examples are:

  • going missing from home or care

  • physical injuries

  • misuse of drugs or alcohol

  • involvement in offending

  • repeat sexually-transmitted infections, pregnancies or terminations

  • absenteeism from school

  • deterioration in physical appearance

  • evidence of online sexual bullying

  • evidence of vulnerability on social networking sites

  • emotional distance from family members

  • receiving gifts from unknown sources

  • recruiting others into exploitative situations

  • poor mental health

  • self-harming

  • thinking about or attempting suicide

If you suspect a person of carrying out child sexual exploitation, or think someone you know has been a victim, or may be soon, visit our How to report possible child abuse page or call our non-emergency number, 101. If you have a hearing or speech impairment, use our textphone service on 18001 101.

If someone is in immediate danger of harm, please call 999 now. If you have a hearing or speech impairment, use our textphone service 18000 or text us on 999 if you’ve pre-registered with the emergencySMS service.

What we are doing about child sexual exploitation? We are backing the Children’s Society and National Police Chiefs’ Council in a campaign to ask workers who are regularly out in the community, and who fear a child is being abused, to speak out. Anyone whose job takes them to people’s homes, such as delivery drivers, postal workers, and tradespeople, is urged to look out for tell-tale signs of abuse such as guarded behaviour, injuries and children looking withdrawn or anxious. Detective Chief Inspector Marie Gresswell of our Public Protection Unit says: 'Everybody has a vital role to protect vulnerable children in our county, and we are urging anyone with concerns to take responsibility and report them. 'If you are out in the community, have contact with the general public by visiting a household in the course of your work, or if you are working in someone’s home and something seems wrong, by speaking out you could help a child escape a dangerous, traumatic situation.

'Please don’t hesitate to raise your concerns with us. We will investigate and, where necessary, take action to safeguard a vulnerable child.'

Useful links Barnardo's A national charity helping children in poverty, supporting young carers and helping families looking to foster or adopt. National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) A national children's charity, preventing abuse and helping those affected to recover. Parents Against Child Exploitation (PACE) The leading national charity working with parents and carers of sexually exploited children. ECPAT UK A UK organisation campaigning against child trafficking and exploitation. Fearless A service that allows you to pass on information about crime 100% anonymously. Enough Campaign A national campaign to tackle violence against women and girls. Local links Bedfordshire Against Violence & Exploitation Works with partners across Bedfordshire to raise awareness of the exploitation that takes place in the county.

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