What is child sexual exploitation?

Rafael-Nuñez-Child abuse - Sexual exploitation

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 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.

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 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).


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, 2012CEOP, 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).

Source: NSPCC