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 are we doing about child sexual exploitation

Throughout Surrey we're tackling child sexual exploitation by:

  • Targeting paedophiles who sexually abuse and groom children and young people online.
  • Tackling offenders who use the internet to obtain and distribute indecent images of children.
  • Using specialist police officers trained to investigate missing person reports and co-ordinate activity to locate young people who regularly go missing or absent from home or care.
  • Managing registered sexual offenders to prevent them from committing further crimes against children online.
  • Providing ongoing awareness training for officers and police staff of the key signs and vulnerabilities of CSE.
  • Delivering educational talks to hotel staff, local school teachers and children’s home managers on how to spot the signs a child may be a victim of CSE
  • Working in partnership work with local councils, Local Safeguarding Children's Boards, housing providers, social services, youth services, the voluntary sector and many other organisations to manage known sex offenders and safeguard vulnerable young people.
  • Involving vulnerable young people in positive activities, such as sport or voluntary work, alongside police and partner agencies, as part of long-term youth engagement.

Child criminal exploitation (CCE)

Child criminal exploitation is when an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, control, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into any criminal activity: (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial or other advantage of the perpetrator or facilitator and/or (c) through violence or threat of violence.

The victim may have been criminally exploited even if the activity appears consensual. Child criminal exploitation does not always involve physical contact, it can occur through the use of technology.

Useful links

Operation Makesafe
A Surrey Police campaign to raise awareness of child sexual exploitation in the business community.

Wise Project-Surrey
Project that offers one-to-one casework and group work/outreach for young people aged 13 – 25.

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.

A UK organisation campaigning against child trafficking and exploitation.