Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a type of sexual abuse. Children in exploitative situations and relationships receive something such as gifts, money or affection as a result of performing sexual activities or others performing sexual activities on them.

Children or young people may be tricked into believing they're in a loving, consensual relationship. They might be invited to parties and given drugs and alcohol. They may also be groomed and exploited online.

Some children and young people are trafficked into or within the UK for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Sexual exploitation can also happen to young people in gangs.

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Child sexual exploitation is a hidden crime. Young people often trust their abuser and don't understand that they're being abused. They may depend on their abuser or be too scared to tell anyone what's happening.

It can involve violent, humiliating and degrading sexual assaults, including oral and anal rape. In some cases, young people are persuaded or forced into exchanging sexual activity for money, drugs, gifts, affection or status. Child sexual exploitation doesn't always involve physical contact and can happen online.

Child sexual abuse online

When sexual exploitation happens online, young people may be persuaded, or forced, to:

  • send or post sexually explicit images of themselves
  • take part in sexual activities via a webcam or smartphone
  • have sexual conversations by text or online.

Abusers may threaten to send images, video or copies of conversations to the young person's friends and family unless they take part in other sexual activity.

Images or videos may continue to be shared long after the sexual abuse has stopped.

Child sexual exploitation in gangs

Sexual exploitation is used in gangs to:

  • exert power and control over members
  • initiate young people into the gang
  • exchange sexual activity for status or protection
  • entrap rival gang members by exploiting girls and young women
  • inflict sexual assault as a weapon in conflict.

Girls and young women are frequently forced into sexual activity by gang members. Research by Beckett (2012) found girls considered to be engaging in casual sex were seen as forfeiting their right to refuse sex.

The majority of sexual exploitation within gangs is committed by teenage boys and men in their twenties (Berelowitz et al, 2012).


Over 2,400 children were victims of sexual exploitation in gangs and groups from August 2010 to October 2011

Explanation: 2,409 children were confirmed as victims of sexual exploitation in gangs and groups during the 14-month period from August 2010 to October 2011.

Stop it Before it Starts: a free service

Stop it Before it Starts is a free service providing bespoke support and training on preventing child sexual exploitation. It's aimed at voluntary organisations working with young people in London communities. 

We know that preventative work is a key factor in responding to child sexual exploitation (CSE). And having early conversations about healthy relationships and consent is vital to tackling it before it starts.

Research1 tells us that that the most effective type of intervention is relationship based support. Stop it Before it Starts helps voluntary organisations build their capacity to work with young people. This could be a youth club, residential unit, hostel or a playground. 

This service was developed with external agencies, with funding from Comic Relief and Big Lottery.

Stop it Before it Starts focuses on strengthening and supporting the excellent work that already exists within the voluntary sector.

A social worker from the NSPCC will have an initial consultation with the organisation to identify their needs, before creating a tailored plan of support. This might include a series of workshops, a practical skills session or joint group work.

Where an organisation is concerned about a specific young person, the social worker may take on some direct work. 

The Stop it Before it Starts free service is currently available to organisations based in the London boroughs of Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Haringey.

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What research tells us about child sexual exploitation

Child sexual exploitation isn't a separate category of abuse in child protection procedures. This means data is often:

  • missing or incomplete
  • concealed in other categories of abuse or crime
  • unreported

(Berelowitz et al, 2012; CEOP, 2012).

In law, there's no specific crime of child sexual exploitation. Offenders are often convicted for associated offences such as sexual activity with a child. Therefore it's not possible to obtain figures from police statistics of sexual exploitation offences (Berelowitz et al, 2012).

Helping children who have been sexually exploited

Find out how you can help protect children who have experienced, or at risk of, child sexual exploitation.

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Signs, indicators and effects

Find out more about the signs, indicators and effects of child sexual exploitation.

Identifying the signs of CSE

Child grooming

Grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purpose of sexual abuse or exploitation.

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More about child sexual exploitation

Who is affected

Sexual exploitation can happen to any young person – whatever their background, age, gender, race or sexuality or wherever they live.

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Preventing child sexual exploitation

How we can protect children and young people from sexual exploitation.

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Facts and statistics

Read the latest facts and statistics about child sexual exploitation.

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What you can do

Donate now

Last year a third of all calls to our helpline were about neglect, a figure that's even higher at Christmas. Donate now and help shine a light on children left in the dark.

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Call the NSPCC helpline

If you're worried about a child, even if you're unsure, contact our professional counsellors 24/7 for help, advice and support.

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Work or volunteer with children and families?

Visit NSPCC Learning for information, resources and training to help you safeguard and protect children and young people across the UK.

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