What is CSE?

What is CSE?

In February 2017 the Government published a definition of Child Sexual Exploitation for practitioners, local leaders and decision makers working to protect children from child sexual exploitation. The guidance and definition highlights the complexity of Child Sexual Exploitation and how it can be difficult for those working with children to identify and assess.

The definition provided is as follows:

‘’Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.’’

The Government document also notes that, like all forms of child sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation can:

  • Affect any child or young person (male or female) under the age of 18 years, including 16 and 17 year olds who can legally consent to have sex;
  • Still be abuse even if the sexual activity appears consensual;
  • Include both contact (penetrative and non-penetrative acts) and non-contact sexual activity;
  • Take place in person or via technology, or a combination of both;
  • Involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance and may, or may not, be accompanied by violence or threats of violence;
  • May occur without the child or young person’s immediate knowledge (through others copying videos or images they have created and posting on social media, for example);
  • Can be perpetrated by individuals or groups, males or females, and children or adults. The abuse can be a one-off occurrence or a series of incidents over time, and range from opportunistic to complex organised abuse;


  • is typified by some form of power imbalance in favour of those perpetrating the abuse. Whilst age may be the most obvious, this power imbalance can also be due to a range of other factors including gender, sexual identity, cognitive ability, physical strength, status, and access to economic or other resources.

Who does it affect?

CSE can affect all children and young people from any background. It happens to boys and young men as well as girls and young women. However some groups of children are particularly vulnerable such as, disabled children, children looked after, care leavers, migrant children, unaccompanied asylum seeking children, homeless children and those missing from home and care.



Even if a young person is aged 16 or 17 years old, and old enough to legally consent to sexual activity, the law still clearly states that they can only consent to sexual activity if they have the freedom and capacity to make that choice.

In circumstances where a young person feels they have no meaningful choice, and /or they are under the influence of substances or fearful of what might happen if they don’t comply to sexual activity, then they cannot legally consent to sexually activity.


What do we all need to do?

Child sexual exploitation affects thousands of children and young people across the UK every year. As professionals working with children and young people we all have an important role to play in working together to safeguard children from Child Sexual Exploitation to ensure that every child and young person in Leeds is protected from being at risk of, or experiencing sexual exploitation.  We can do this by:

Identification - We should all be aware of the risk indicators relating to the vulnerability of CSE to enable us to identify whether a child is at risk of sexual exploitation.

Acting - We should act upon early indicators relating to children and young people in order to protect them and prevent them from further harm. If someone identifies that a child may be at risk of CSE, they should contact the Children and Families Service Duty and Advice Team to discuss this. If a child is believed to be at immediate risk of harm, ring the Police on 999.

Vulnerability and Risk Management - where it has been recognised that a child is at risk, has been targeted or is being exploited, services should work together to manage vulnerability and risk. This is usually coordinated by Children’s Social Work Service and involves multi-agency partnership working.

Disruption - Services should work in partnership to disrupt perpetrator activity. This will include early identification and the sharing of information about individuals or groups who are believed to be exploiting children, between the police and services working with children and adults, the business sector and the wider community.

Below are some risk indicators and factors to take into consideration, to help identify if a child is potentially at risk of, or experiencing  CSE; the list is not exhaustive and the indicators can be attributed to young people who are not at risk of, or experiencing CSE, however it is to always consider that the indicators for child sexual exploitation can conversely also be mistaken for ‘normal adolescent behaviours’.

To appropriately assess a child’s risk of CSE requires professional curiosity and holistic multi agency assessments, which fully consider and analyse the child’s vulnerability and risk factors. This will allow for all the indicators and the child’s personal circumstances to be given full consideration and for the child and their family receive an appropriate level of support and intervention. When considering the child’s vulnerability and risk factors and indicators, professional judgement is paramount.

Education, training or employment - Truanting, Regular non- attendance, Excluded, change in attitude, behavioural or management problems

Family and peer relationships – Experience of domestic abuse and violence, Parental Substance misuse, Parental mental health.. Friendships /peer groups either within or outside the education/ employment /training setting are with others at risk of CSE, Abusive significant relationship,

Missing / run away - Comes in late, stays out overnight, persistently reported as missing, whereabouts often unknown, missing for short periods of time, from education, home or care on a regular basis.

Sexualised risk taking - - Inappropriate dress/ change in physical appearance.
Meeting unknown adults / getting into unknown cars. Internet used to meet adults. Older partner, associating with other children /young people/adults known to be involved with sexual exploitation. Young person is in a sexual relationship or has on line contact with an adult or significant older peer.  Child posts inappropriate language / information / sexual pictures / uses the internet /social media to share images, make contact / arrange to meet up with adults / peers.


Unaccounted for monies and / or goods, especially jewellery, items of clothing and mobile phones, which the child / young person is unable to provide explanation for.

Has use of more than one mobile phone.

The child / young person funds items such as fast food , taxi fares, alcohol and substance use, cigarettes, entry into clubs, trips away from home without any obvious means.

Contact with risky adults / environments - Associating with other known sexually exploited children and / or unknown adults. Extensive / secretive use of mobile phone / internet. Accessing unknown premises (homes) or known risky areas. Evidence of sexual bullying and/or vulnerability through the internet and/or social networking sites. Gang association either through relatives,  peers or intimate relationships, access to premises not know to parent / carer, reports from reliable sources which suggest involvement in sexual exploitation.

Coercion / control - Reported limited /reduced contact with friends, family or in placement, disclosure of physical /sexual assault (later withdrawn), physical injuries,  whereabouts  unknown/estranged from family. Child / Young person is actively involved with a gang or criminal group or associated to gang members.

Sexual health - Reported STI(s), miscarriage(s), termination(s) Physical symptoms suggestive of sexual assault, pregnancy.

Emotional Health - Low self-esteem, self-harm, eating disorder, attempted suicide, violent and /or angry behaviour /out bursts, risk taking behaviours, offending. Repeated sexualised risk taking, dependency on substances /alcohol.


Further information on CSE:

How Leeds is dealing with CSE

Current action being taken in Leeds to tackle CSE

Local CSE protocols for practitioners in Leeds