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

Essex Police have also launched a new hotline 01245 452058 for anyone with concerns about child sexual exploitation or about young people being exploited.

The hotline's open Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm, and you can leave a voicemail outside of these hours.

You can speak to us directly about your concerns and we’ll be on hand to offer advice and take reports that help us investigate crimes.

Advice for taxi drivers

Taxis drivers and private hire vehicles are the eyes and ears of the community and help make the streets safer for young people.

Read our advice on how you can help spot possible child sexual exploitation

Useful links

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.

Essex Social Care 
Report concerns about a child and contact the Children and Families Hub. 

Essex Safeguarding Children Board
Information for parents, children and young people.

Southend Safeguarding Children Board
Information for professionals, parents, children and young people.

Thurrock Local Safeguarding Children Partnership 
Information for professionals, parents, children and young people.

Centre for Action on Rape and Abuse (CARA)
CARA is a confidential and non-judgemental support service for women, children and young people, living in North or Mid-Essex who have experienced rape, sexual abuse or assault either recently or in the past, either directly or indirectly. 

South Essex rape and incest crisis centre (SERRICC)
SERICC provides free, confidential services in South East Essex including Thurrock, Basildon and Brentwood for women and girls over 12 years who have or who are experiencing any form of sexual violence. You can also phone if you're worried about your child or someone else you know. Provides phone counselling and 'one to one' counselling, emotional support and practical information. 

Southend on Sea Rape Crisis
SOSRC provides specialist services covering the Southend, Castlepoint and Rochford areas for male and female survivors, of all ages, of sexual violence or abuse.