Child 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.

Types of child sexual exploitation

CSE can happen in person or online. An abuser will gain a child's trust or control them through violence or blackmail before moving onto sexually abusing them. This can happen in a short period of time.

When a child is sexually exploited online they might be persuaded or forced to:

  • send or post sexually explicit images of themselves
  • film or stream sexual activities
  • have sexual conversations

Once an abuser has images, video or copies of conversations, they might use threats and blackmail to force a young person to take part in other sexual activity. They may also share the images and videos with others or circulate them online.

Gangs use sexual exploitation:

  • to exert power and control
  • or initiation
  • to use sexual violence as a weapon

Children or young people might be invited to parties or gatherings with others their own age or adults and given drugs and alcohol. They may be assaulted and sexually abused by one person or multiple perpetrators. The sexual assaults and abuse can be violent, humiliating and degrading.

Hidden issue

CSE is a hidden issue taking place out of public view. Practitioners often do not identify it and young people themselves frequently do not recognise themselves as the abused. It can be difficult to get an accurate picture of the risk of sexual exploitation.

The link between children being sexually exploited and children going missing is very strong. Some 140,000 children go missing from home or care in the UK each year and it has been estimated that running away places around a quarter of these at risk of serious harm. Children and young people who run away may be ‘pushed away’ following abuse or other factors or ‘pulled away’ wanting to be near friends or because they are being exploited by adults.

See the NSPCC website for more information as well as the Department for Education (DfE) Definition and guidance on CSE for practitioners and managers. 

Local information on exploitation

Bedfordshire Against Violence and Exploitation (BAVEX) is the countywide campaign to raise awareness and reporting on all forms of exploitation, especially those linked to organised crime. This includes things like county lines, modern slavery, cuckooing, human trafficking and child sexual exploitation.

The Bedfordshire Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU) is a network of different agencies and groups aiming to tackle the root causes of things like gang membership and prevent young people becoming involved in all aspects of gang criminality and exploitation. They have specialist support and advice to help you, whether you are a young person directly involved, have concerns about a family member or friend, or work in this area and want to learn more about what we do.

VERU also has many resources which may help you as you go about your business. You can also access free training resources via Safeguarding Bedfordshire training.

Multi-agency information submission form

The Police requires your information to help build a picture of what drugs, gangs, crime, CSE, missing, modern day slavery and other vulnerabilities look like in Bedford Borough. The need to know where it is happening and who is involved. 

Example of how to help:

  • if you have observed a car regularly being at a location where young people congregate share the details of the car and a description of the occupants
  • If a young person changes their appearance and appears to have money a new phone etc and talks about going out to parties

Please share this information with the Police using the information reporting form here (Word).

You can also read our guidelines for completing the form (PDF).

Please see the Pan Bedfordshire Interagency Child Protection Procedures - 3.7 Safeguarding Children and Young People from Exploitation for guidance and procedures.