Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is a form child abuse. It may also be known as CSEA which is Child Sexual Exploitation and ABUSE.

Victims of Child Sexual Exploitation are children and young people under the age of 18. Just because someone has reached the legal age of being able to consent to sex at 16 years, they are still at risk of exploitation. Young people over the age of 16 are legally defined as children under the Children Act (1989, 2004).

CSE occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to manipulate or deceive a young person into sexual activity. It can involve young people, both males and females, and can take place anywhere and by anyone.

Children and young people can be forced or coerced into carrying out sexual acts. In return they receive ‘something’ for performing sexual activities. This may be things such as drugs, alcohol, a place to stay, affection, attention or other ‘gifts’ such as clothes or mobile phones.

Child Sexual Exploitation always involves a ‘trade’ or ‘exchange’. The young person receives something that they ‘want/need’, often this can be in the form of emotions, for example, a special friendship or relationship.


The peak age for young people to be sexually exploited is 15, but children as young as 10 are also identified as being at risk.

– Barnardos, 2011


In order to manipulate the child, the abuser will ‘groom’ them.

Grooming is when an offender wants to sexually exploit a young person. They take time to make the young person, and sometimes also the family of the young person, trust them.

Grooming involves a process called ‘The Grooming Line’. The end goal of this process is when the behaviour of the abuser changes. It starts with a ‘loving relationship’ and ends with an abusive relationship. At this point, many young people feel too frightened to come forward and seek help. They may even feel it is their fault.

It is important to remember that it is NEVER the young person’s fault, even if they felt they had ‘agreed’ to the sexual activity.


Girls and women are more than 6 times more likely to be at risk than boys & young men, but it is understood that actual risk to males was probably underestimated.

It is important to acknowledge that you may not recognise CSE whilst it is happening. In exploitative and inappropriate relationships it is common to feel you are in a loving relationship.

In the case of boyfriend exploitation’s the abuser will groom a young person into a relationship and then force or coerce them to do sexual acts that they do not want to do. For example, to have sex with friends or associates.

A child or young person’s perception of what is happening to them in inappropriate relationships can often differ from the reality of the situation.

It is not ever the child’s fault.

Child Sexual Exploitation does not always involve physical contact. The use of technology and the internet is currently the most prolific mode of abuse.

Using the internet means that sexual exploitation can also occur when the child or young person has no direct contact with the person exploiting them. For example, an individual may be persuaded to post sexual images of themselves on the internet for the gratification of another person.

One quarter of reports relating to CSE relate to online grooming – inciting a child to perform a sexual act.


If you think you may be experiencing Child Sexual Exploitation, it is important you talk to someone about it and get support.

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