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The sexual exploitation of children is defined as:

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.
Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015.

See also Child Sexual Exploitation: Definition and Guide for Practitioners (DfE 2017). This advice is non-statutory, and has been produced to help practitioners to identify child sexual exploitation and take appropriate action in response. This advice includes the management, disruption and prosecution of perpetrators.

College of Policing ‘Responding to Child Sexual Exploitation’ identifies a number of types of exploitation.

The act of CSE is generally a hidden activity and is much more likely to occur on-line or in private dwellings than in public venues. However, the act or method of coercion by the perpetrator(s) can take place on the streets.

The following examples (based on the Barnardos 2011 report, Puppet on a string – The urgent need to cut children free from sexual exploitation) describe the different types of exploitation offenders use and how children can be coerced.

Inappropriate relationships

These usually involve one offender who has inappropriate power or control over a young person (physical, emotional or financial). One indicator may be a significant age gap. The young person may believe they are in a loving relationship. 

Boyfriend model

Here the offender befriends and grooms a young person into a ‘relationship’ and then coerces or forces them to have sex with friends or associates. The boyfriend may be significantly older than the victim, but not always. 

Peer-on-peer exploitation

This refers to situations where young people are forced or coerced into sexual activity by peers or associates. Sometimes this can be associated with gang activity but not always.

Gang-associated CSE

A child or young person can be sexually exploited by a gang, but this is not necessarily the reason why gangs are formed. Types of exploitation may include using sex as a weapon between rival gangs, as a form of punishment to fellow gang members and/or a means of gaining status within the hierarchy of the gang.

Organised/networked sexual exploitation or trafficking

Young people (often connected) are passed through networks, possibly over geographical distances, between towns and cities where they may be forced/coerced into sexual activity with multiple men. Often this occurs at ‘parties’, and young people who are involved may recruit others into the network. Some of this activity is described as serious organised crime and can involve the organised ‘buying and selling’ of young people by offenders. Organised exploitation varies from spontaneous networking between groups of offenders, to more serious organised crime where young people are effectively ‘sold’.

Click here to view the Models of Sexual Exploitation Flowchart.

Definition of gangs and groups in respect of CSE

The Office of the Children's Commissioner has defined CSE in gangs and groups in its 2013 report. This includes:

  • Gangs – mainly comprising men and boys aged 13-25 years old, who take part in many forms of criminal activity (e.g., knife crime or robbery) who can engage in violence against other gangs, and who have identifiable markers, for example a territory, a name, or sometimes clothing;
  • Groups – involves people who come together in person or online for the purpose of setting up, co-ordinating and/or taking part in the sexual exploitation of children in either an organised or opportunistic way.

The Office of the Children's Commissioner's 2013 report and Barnardos 2013 publication The tangled web – How child sexual exploitation is becoming more complex suggest that organised sexual exploitation and/or trafficking by groups is a sophisticated and complex area of CSE. However, CSE is not just gang related. Young people can be exploited, and are vulnerable to different levels of intimidation, and physical, and/or sexual violence from other exploitative sources.

See Children Affected by Gang Activity or Serious Youth Violence Procedure.


Any child or young person may be at risk of sexual exploitation, regardless of their family background or other circumstances.

Sexual exploitation results in children and young people suffering harm, and causes significant damage to their physical and mental health. It can also have profound and damaging consequences for the child’s family. Parents and carers are often traumatised and under severe stress. Siblings can feel alienated and their self-esteem can be affected. Family members can themselves suffer serious threats of abuse, intimidation and assault at the hands of perpetrators.

There are strong links between children involved in sexual exploitation and other behaviours such as running away from home or care, missing education, bullying, self-harm, teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, terminations, and substance misuse.

In addition, some children are particularly vulnerable, for example, children with special needs, those in residential or foster care, those leaving care, migrant children, unaccompanied asylum seeking children, victims of forced marriage and those involved in gangs.

There is also often a presumption that children are sexually exploited by people they do not know. However evidence shows that this is often not the case and children are often sexually exploited by people with whom they feel they have a relationship, e.g. a boyfriend / girlfriend / school friends/family associates. Children are often persuaded that the boyfriend / girlfriend is their only true form of support and encouraged to withdraw from their friends and family and to place their trust only within the relationship.

Due to the nature of the grooming methods used by their abusers, it is very common for children and young people who are sexually exploited not to recognise that they are being abused. Practitioners should be aware that many young people may believe themselves to be acting voluntarily and will need practitioners to work with them so they can recognise that they are being sexually exploited. This is not an issue, which affects only girls and young women, but boys and young men are also exploited. However, they often may experience other barriers to disclosure. (See Issue section for more information).

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It can take many forms from the seemingly ‘consensual’ relationship where sex is exchanged for attention, accommodation or gifts, to serious organised crime and child trafficking. (Human trafficking is the movement of a person from one place to another into conditions of exploitation, using deception, coercion, the abuse of power or the abuse of someone’s vulnerability).

What marks out exploitation is an imbalance of power within the relationship. The perpetrator always holds some kind of power over the victim, increasing the dependence of the victim as the exploitative relationship develops.

Technology can play a part in sexual exploitation, for example, through its use to record abuse and share it with other like-minded individuals or as a medium to access children and young people in order to groom them.

Parents, carers and anyone in a position of responsibility with a child should also know how to monitor online activity and be prepared to monitor computer usage, where they are suspicious that a child is being groomed online.

The fact that a young person is 16 or 17 years old should not be taken as a sign they are no longer at risk of sexual exploitation. As a child experiencing exploitation approaches their eighteenth birthday, adult services should be considered and, where appropriate, engaged in continuing work to reduce risks.

Young people with a disability may have increased vulnerability as well as young people up to the age of 21 who were looked after for whom the local authority has statutory care leaver responsibility and/or where there may be child in need and/or child protection issues. (See Issue section for more information).

Sexual exploitation has strong links with other forms of crime, for example, domestic violence and abuse, online and offline grooming, the distribution of abusive images of children and child trafficking. The perpetrators of sexual exploitation are often well organised and use sophisticated tactics. They are known to target areas where children and young people gather without much adult supervision, e.g. parks, takeaway outlets or shopping centres, amusement arcades, sites on the Internet and Children’s Homes.

Children who are looked after by the Local Authority can be more vulnerable to exploitation. Substitute carers must be able to recognise the possible indicators of child sexual exploitation. Looked after children are subject to the same child protection procedures as those who live with their own families. However their needs may be different and for this reason their Independent Reviewing Officer must be kept informed of any concerns relating to child sexual exploitation or any other form of suspected abuse.


This extract from The Office of the Commissioner for Children (OCC) Inquiry into CSE in Gangs and Groups (Nov 2012) helps to consider issues around consent.

“The law not only sets down 16 as the age of consent, it also applies to whether a person has given their consent to sexual activity, or was able to give their consent, or whether sexual violence and rape in particular took place. In the context of child sexual exploitation, the term ‘consent’ refers to whether or not a child understands how one gives consent, withdraws consent and what situations (such as intoxication, duress, violence) can compromise the child or young person’s ability to consent freely to sexual activity.”

Practitioners must also consider other factors which might influence the ability of the person to give consent, e.g. learning disability / mental ill health. Young people under the age of 16 cannot legally consent to sexual activity. Sexual intercourse with children under the age of 13 is statutory rape. A child under 18 cannot consent to their own abuse through exploitation.


Anyone who has regular contact with children is in a good position to notice changes in behaviour and physical signs that may indicate involvement in sexual exploitation. The use of the CSE Risk Assessment Tool will help people understand vulnerabilities to CSE.

Personal, behavioural and situational indicators

These can be used to identify the potential for sexual exploitation and it is important that all those working with children and young people are familiar with these to be able to spot the potential to be able to explore the risks further. Indicators of CSE might include:

Personal Indicators

  • Physical symptoms (bruising suggestive of either physical or sexual assault);
  • A sexually transmitted infection, or repeated testing for infections;
  • Pregnancy and/or seeking abortion;
  • Reports from reliable sources suggesting the likelihood of involvement in sexual exploitation.

Behavioural Indicators

  • Young person known to be sexually active;
  • Evidence of drug, alcohol or substance misuse;
  • Going out from home/care setting in clothing unusual for the individual child (inappropriate for age, borrowing clothing from older young people);
  • Significantly older partner (Barnardos suggests over 5 years difference);
  • Accounts of social activities with no plausible explanation of the source of necessary funding;
  • Possession of large amounts of money with no plausible explanation;
  • Acquisition of expensive clothes, mobile phones or other possessions without plausible explanation;
  • Having keys to premises other than those known about;
  • Low self image, low self esteem, self harming behaviour - cutting, overdosing, eating disorder, promiscuity;
  • Truancy/disengagement with education;
  • Possible inappropriate use of the internet and forming relationships, particularly with adults via the internet;
  • Sexually risky behaviour including ‘sexting’ and sending and receiving inappropriate images, contact with unknown individuals via social media, which can include MSN/ instant messenger/ Facebook etc.

Situational Indicators

  • Reports that the child has been seen in places known to be used for sexual exploitation;
  • Adults loitering outside the child’s usual place of residence / schools and other settings;
  • Persistently missing, staying out overnight or returning late with no plausible explanation;
  • Returning after having been missing, looking well cared for in spite of having no known home base;
  • Missing for long periods, with no known home base;
  • Placement breakdown;
  • Pattern of street homelessness;
  • Entering or leaving vehicles driven by unknown adults;
  • Going missing and being found in areas where the child or young person has no known links;
  • Parents / carers who are vulnerable to being groomed to access children.

Factors that are known to increase the risks of children / young people being drawn into exploitative situations:

  • Witnessing/experiencing domestic violence;
  • Children and young people ‘Looked After’;
  • Lack of love and security / poor attachment;
  • Patterns of abuse and/or neglect in family;
  • Homelessness/sofa surfing;
  • Substance misuse by parents/carers/child;
  • Learning disabilities, special needs or mental health issues;
  • Homophobia;
  • Breaks in adult relationships;
  • Death, loss or illness of a significant person in the child’s life;
  • Financially unsupported/ poverty;
  • Some form of family conflict;
  • Adult soliciting (prostitution);
  • Migrant / refugee / asylum seeker.

Vulnerabilities are identified and targeted by the abuser, whether the child / young person is living with their family, looked after, away from home or they have run away.

Protection and Action to be Taken

A CSE flowchart has been developed to give a simple guide to actions.

Where professionals have concerns that a child / young person may be being exploited they should take any immediate action to protect the child / young person that is needed.

Where appropriate, professionals should share concern with child / young person, parent/s and explore whether they also have concerns. The wishes and feelings of the child or young person and their parents or carers should be obtained and considered when deciding how to proceed.

Using the CSE Risk Assessment Tool

Professionals will use the Child Sexual Exploitation Risk Assessment Tool (please link to Information that Practitioners May Use when working with Parents in local documents library to identify CSE factor / risks. The CSE Risk Assessment Tool may be used in a number of situations to explore the level of risk of CSE faced by a young person.

The CSE – Guidance on Using the Risks Assessment is practice guidance about using the tool available.

The CSE Risk Assessment Tool may be completed by one professional or, by a group of professionals. The professional leading the use of the tool should be familiar with it, and understand the indicators listed and how they link to CSE. Care should be taken that the indicators are treated as such rather than placing blame or responsibility for the risks on young person. Professionals using the tool should remember that it is based on professional judgement. The scores produced by using the tool is a guide only and should not be used to replace an individual’s professional judgement. Used well, the tool can be a catalyst for raising awareness of the risks for young people and work with them to address risks.

The risk assessment tool should be completed and analysis drawn from it to inform assessments and plans. An LSCB audit in 2014 highlighted the need to specifically refer to the risks of CSE in other assessments so that there is clarity about the concerns.

Actions following the CSE Risk Assessment Tool

Some situations will be MINIMAL or MILD RISK of CSE and in these cases the professional/s involved should continue to provide their services and use the risks identified to develop the plan for the child. Where there are a number of services involved, a Team Around the Child approach can be used to address risks, using disruption strategies. In these cases the CSE Risk Assessment Tool should be reviewed three monthly until risks have reduced.

Situations identified as MODERATE OR SIGNIFICANT RISK should lead to a referral to Children’s Social Care. The Referrals Procedure must be followed.

Where an agency is concerned about losing the engagement of a child or young person by reporting their concern to Children’s Social Care, the agency should discuss this with Children’s Social Care to agree a way forward. Any decision not to share information or refer a child should be fully recorded.

Children’s Social Care will consider the referral and the information identifying risks of CSE. All CSE Risk assessments indicating moderate or significant risks will be share with Police SRU by Children’s Social Care, Significant risk cases will be allocated to Police Operational Zeal Team. In some cases they will hold a multi-agency Strategy Discussion / Meeting between the referrer, Police, Education, Health (including school nursing) and others involved to agree whether s47 enquiries to commence.

If the referral indicates multiple alleged victims or multiple perpetrators then a Senior Manager from CSC will chair the strategy meeting.

If the child is receiving hospital treatment and/or a medical examination is required the medical consultant must be involved. See Investigating Child Protection Concerns Procedure.

The Child Sexual Exploitation Risk Assessment Tool may be re-visited or completed for the first time in this multi-agency meeting to identify the level of risk faced by young people. A copy CSE Risk Assessment should be forwarded to the CSE Lead in Local Authority.

Following the strategy meeting / professionals meeting an assessment will be undertaken. This could be a S47 enquiry, a Single Assessment and Intervention, a CAF or other Early Help Assessment. The CSE Risk Assessment Tool will be used to inform the Assessment and the analysis of risks to child / young person.

The outcome of the section 47 enquiry, where undertaken, must be recorded and the record shared with agencies involved. There will be times when it is appropriate to convene a Child Protection Conference when the threshold for significant harm are met and when the family’s ability to protect the child is limited. In some situations where a family are engaged in the preventative plan already, a CP plan may not be necessary, but a robust Child in Need plan may be sufficient to address concerns.

Where the threshold for a strategy discussion is not met or the strategy discussion does not agree that s47 threshold is met, there will be agreement to Child in Need assessment or to return the referral to the referrer to undertake CAF or other Early Help Assessment.

In any case a plan of initial interventions, further assessment and disruption strategies set out in CSE Disruption Strategies will be created. Agencies involved with a child or young person experiencing child sexual exploitation will consider actions they can take to disrupt perpetrators and support the child or young person to leave the situation. A detailed list of Disruption Strategies and interventions are described in the Disruption Strategies document to assist those who know the child or young person to choose interventions which will draw them away from the exploitation.

A TAC Meeting/ Child in Need Planning Meeting/ Initial Child Protection Conference will use the assessment to agree actions and disruption strategies. Any agencies being asked to undertake work within this plan should be made aware of the CSE risks identified.

Review the Risk Assessment three monthly until risk have been reduced.

Where services are ending involvement they should ensure that others who remain involved are aware of the vulnerability to CSE risks the young person has and share any indicators that may show that risks are escalating again.

The prosecution and disruption of perpetrators is an essential part of the process in reducing harm. It will be the responsibility of the Detectives within the Police team to gather evidence, investigate and interview perpetrators and prepare case files for consideration by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) with the intention of obtaining the successful conviction of offenders.

Working with parents and other family members

Work in partnership with families is key to effective reduction of risk in many cases. The Relational Model produced by Parents Against Child Exploitation (PACE) report in 2014 details how parents can be excluded or blamed when a child or young person is being exploited. It is important to help parents understand the young person’s experience and to support them to play their role in reducing risks. Parents and siblings will be affected by CSE and may face risks themselves.

Strengthening parents’ relationships with children and their understanding of CSE will help reduce vulnerability. Professionals and families need to be aware that some perpetrators will target parents and carers to access children. This may be in form of befriending and supporting them or meeting an unmet need for the adults. Sometimes they will provide drugs, alcohol, accommodation, employment opportunities or money to support a family.

Child Abduction Notices

The child abduction warning notice procedure is for the occasions when police become aware of children spending time with an adult who we believe could be harmful to them, for example when there is previous intelligence that suggests the adult has a sexual interest in children. Sometimes the children are reported missing by parents and keep being found by police at a particular adult's address. Historically it has been difficult to deter the children from spending time with the adult especially when the adult gives the child lots of attention, freedom and presents.

A child abduction Warning Notice can now be issued to the adult. In essence, the Notices identifies the child and confirms that the suspect has no permission to associate with or to contact or communicate with the child and that if the suspect continues to do so, the suspect may be arrested and prosecuted for an offence under s.2 Child Abduction Act 1984 or s.49 Children and Young Persons Act 1989 or for any other criminal offence committed in relation to that child.

Intelligence gathering

In working with children and young people experiencing risks of CSE there will be opportunities to identify ‘intelligence’ about risks that can be addressed strategically.

Police have designed a template for intelligence gathered to be shared with them the CSE Information Sharing Form. This can be used by anyone to share information with the Force intelligence Unit.

A Pan-Dorset Multi-Agency CSE Intelligence Meeting is held 6 weekly to consider the multi-agency response and intelligence around significant risk cases across Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset.

Information about the Intelligence meeting can be sought from Dorset Police Operation Zeal CSE Team.

Multi Agency Responsibilities

Children’s Social Care

Working Together 2015 requires that following a referral Children’s Social Care should ensure that the needs of all children and young people who are being, or who are at risk of being, sexually exploited are assessed and that appropriate multi-agency engagement and appropriate interventions are undertaken. The duties under the Children Act 1989 apply to all children under the age of 18 years. Children’s Social Care should also be alert to the possibility of sexual exploitation of children who are already in receipt of services.

Children’s Social Care should involve the police as soon as possible to ensure that no information that may be critical to a prosecution case is lost (whether or not a child/young person has made a formal complaint). It may also be required so that a disruption plan can be put into place.

Children’s Social Care will undertake an Assessment to understand the needs, risks and strengths for the child or young person.

The LSCB audit in 2014 highlighted the need for Children’s Social Care Managers to provide effective supervision for cases, which includes opportunities for reflection and challenge around casework and effective practice which will identify and address CSE.

Practitioners across the three Local Authorities and the Safer Schools and Communities Team are trained to deliver ‘Truth or Lies’ programme with young people experiencing CSE. The use of this programme will be agreed in a multi-agency meeting which will ensure that it aligns with other inputs for the child and that all of those involved are aware of the work and the implications for their involvement / practice.

The Police

OP Zeal is the Dorset Police CSE team set up to deal with all children within Dorset assessed as being at significant risk of CSE. They also pro-actively target those suspected of targeting vulnerable children within groups and gangs, and work alongside partner agencies to support and educate vulnerable children throughout Dorset.

The role for the police is to identify children and young people who may be at risk of child sexual exploitation, work with other agencies to safeguard the child or young person and to investigate those who involve or coerce children and young people in sexual exploitation.

The sexual exploitation of a child or young person will involve the commission of a crime or have the potential for a crime to be committed. Therefore as child sexual exploitation is child abuse it should receive the same level of response as other forms of child abuse. Investigations should be carried out by officers trained in child protection procedures and who are familiar with the risk indicators for child sexual exploitation.

This involves a proactive response to explore locally the nature and patterns of sexual exploitation. The information gathered regarding those at risk of child sexual exploitation and potential perpetrators should be shared with partner agencies. Any response should be coordinated with those agencies to ensure that the welfare, safety and best interests of the child are paramount.

Many child sexual exploitation cases cross police force boundaries and therefore there should be cross boundary cooperation and information sharing. This may involve the National Crime Agency's CEOP Command (formerly Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) who can support the police by helping to coordinate cross-boundary or international investigations involving child sex offender networks or in the management of high risk offenders which may involve grooming through chat rooms and social networking sites or involvement with paedophile rings.

Pan-Dorset CSE and Missing Children Service

The Barnardos child sexual exploitation (CSE) and missing service will provide effective support to children and young people of 17 years of age and under and those eligible for leaving care services beyond the age of 18. Support shall be provided to those who are at risk of and/or who have been reported to the police as having run away or gone missing from home and care and /or who may be at risk of CSE within the area of Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole. This service shall be delivered fully in accordance with the two Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards’ plans and as part of an effective contribution to meeting the responsibilities of Children’s Trust Boards of Dorset County Council, Bournemouth Borough Council and the Borough of Poole.

The Barnardos Service will work mostly with children at significant risk and their involvement will be agreed at multi-agency planning meetings for the child, where the particular response offered by Barnardos is considered alongside the plans and approaches already available to young people. Once it is agreed, a referral to Barnardos will be completed by the lead professional. In some cases children at moderate risk will also benefit from the service delivery, and again, this should be agreed in a multi-agency forum before a referral is made.

Youth Services

Youth and Community workers (and volunteers within the service) have close contact with children and young people and will be in a key position to identify signs that someone is at risk of, or is being, sexually exploited. Sexual exploitation is not something that should be kept confidential. Youth Workers should discuss concerns with senior colleagues and should refer to other Children’s Social Care / Police when this is identified. (see Referrals Procedure, Making a Referral). Following the referral it is likely that the youth worker should continue to support the child as part of the plan.

Youth Offending Teams (YOTS)

YOTS are well placed to identify those children and young people known to relevant organisations as being most at risk of being drawn into the criminal justice system. These children /young people may also be vulnerable and therefore may be at risk of sexual exploitation. The YOT will use the CSE risk matrix to assess the level of risk; where concerns exist, the matrix will be sent to Children’s Social Care as part of the referral process. There should also be clear links between youth justice and LA Children’s Social Care at a strategic level.

Health Services

All health practitioners and organisations have a key role in actively promoting the health and wellbeing of children and also have a duty under Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

Children and young people who are sexually exploited can present across a range of health settings in a variety of ways, see table below:

PHYSICAL HEALTH presentations of CSE MENTAL HEALTH presentations of CSE

These may include:

  • Poor self-care;
  • Injuries;
  • Sexually transmitted infections;
  • Sexual Assault;
  • Contraceptive advice;
  • Termination of Pregnancy;
  • Pregnancy;
  • Drug and alcohol problems;
  • Medically unexplained symptoms.

These may include:

  • Emotional symptoms;
  • Trauma symptoms;
  • Self-harming behaviour;
  • Problem behaviours e.g. running away, risk-taking behaviours;
  • Problems in relationships.

(Reference: Child Sexual Exploitation: Improving Recognition and Response in Health Settings Academy of Royal Colleges (2014))

Health services are in a key position to recognise children and young people who are suffering sexual exploitation. However they are also in a position to identify concerns about adults who may be perpetrators of sexual exploitation.

NHS England CSE Pocket Guide for Health Professionals will assist practitioners (see Document Library).

  • Sexual health services, genito-urinary medicine services (GUM), community contraceptive clinics and community pharmacists for example may be aware of sexually active young people and should be aware of the indicators and signs of sexual exploitation. Any concerns should be referred to Children’s Social Care following the Referrals Procedure;
  • Some health services will have a one-off intervention with a child and will use their usual notification processes (i.e. referral to Children’s Social Care for moderate or significant concerns; to health safeguarding services for mild or minimal concerns) to flag CSE indicators identified;
  • Mental health services including child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHs), adult mental health services and drug and alcohol services may encounter children at risk of or suffering child sexual exploitation. CAMHs staff should identify whether child abuse or neglect, domestic violence and drug or alcohol misuse are factors in a child’s mental health problems and they should also consider sexual exploitation as part of the assessment and care planning. Adult mental health services should be alert to the indicators of child sexual exploitation so can alert Children’s Social Care or the police of any adults they suspect of being the perpetrators of child sexual exploitation;
  • Looked after Children and Care Leavers health practitioners are working with vulnerable children who may be at risk of sexual exploitation. They are in a position to identify concerns and should inform Children’s Social Care of these concerns following local procedures remembering that although the young person may be saying that their sexual relationship is consensual they can still be sexually exploited;
  • Paediatric and Emergency Department staff see children/young people who have been physically or sexually assaulted, or present with other injuries and illnesses. They also see children/young people who attend due to alcohol or drug misuse or deliberate self harm. The staff should refer to other agencies in accordance with the Referral procedure e.g. Children’s Social Care, police, CAMHs when they have concerns. Although children/young people may present at Emergency Departments reporting sexual assault medical examination and follow up should take place at the Sexual Assault Referral Centre SARC where forensic and photographic evidence can be collected to assist the police with their investigations;
  • School Nursing services may be aware of sexually active young people and may come into contact with young people at school drop-in and at other health related activities in schools and should be aware of the indicators and signs of sexual exploitation. Any concerns should be referred to Children’s Social Care following the Referrals Procedure;
  • General Practitioners (GPs) and other practice staff will see young people with a whole range of health issues, both physical and mental health and will also be involved in providing contraceptive advice and treatment. GPs will also be aware of issues within families which may be impacting upon a young person’s health and concerns may be shared by parents regarding a young person’s behaviour. GPs and staff should be aware of the indicators and signs of sexual exploitation. Any concerns should be referred to Children’s Social Care following the Referrals Procedure.

Schools and Further Education Institutions

Schools (including academies, independent schools and non-maintained special schools) and further education (FE) institutions are required under the Education Act 2002 to make arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

Staff in education establishments are in a prime position to recognise sexual exploitation and should therefore be able to identify the signs/indicators of sexual exploitation. Any concerns must be discussed with senior safeguarding staff and the Referrals Procedure must be followed. The CSE RAT will support staff in assessing the levels of risk for children.

Education establishments can also protect children and young people by helping them gain an understanding of acceptable/unacceptable relationships and sexual behaviour. Children and young people should be informed of risks specifically around sexual exploitation and should be given information on how to seek help and guidance.

Education Welfare / Attendance / Children Missing from Education Services

Where a child or young person is of statutory school age and found to be “Missing from Education”, the service will work with parent/carers and other services to return the child or young person to full time education; thus ensuring that they can access support from their educational setting. In this work, professionals should be vigilant to indicators that children are vulnerable to CSE.

Voluntary and Community Sector Organisation

All voluntary and community sector organisations in contact with children, young people and families should be alert to the signs and indicators of sexual exploitation. They may be working with young people who have disengaged from mainstream statutory services and who by definition are more vulnerable to the potential of sexual exploitation. As with statutory agencies if the voluntary sector has any concerns they must seek advice from or refer to Children’s Social Care.

National Probation Service, Dorset

The National Probation Service (NPS) are a statutory authority and have a duty to refer any children or young people seen as vulnerable to services which can support them and to follow this up to ensure children and young people are safe. Probation staff will undertake training to ensure a level of awareness of child sexual exploitation risks is understood. Staff will share information under MAPPA arrangements to protect potential victims and assess the risks of serious harm perpetrators known to the NPS may pose.

Leisure Services

Many activities take part in premises managed by local authorities or their agents. Services such as libraries, parks and gardens, sport and leisure centres events and attractions, museums and arts centres will all have children visiting and using their facilities some of whom may be at risk of sexual exploitation. Any concerns regarding sexual exploitation should be discussed with senior colleagues and be referred to the appropriate agencies when identified (see Referrals Procedure).

Public areas such as parks and leisure centres are often used by perpetrators to target victims. Therefore managers should comply with requests for assistance from the police and other agencies to help in disrupting the activity.

Housing Services

Housing staff in LA’s, social landlords and environmental health officers are often aware of children and young people with needs and welfare issues, including those who are assessed as homeless. They should be aware of the risk of sexual exploitation and may be able to identify adults about whom they have concerns as possible perpetrators of sexual exploitation. If they have concerns a referral must be made to Children’s Social Care or the Police (see Referrals Procedure).

Local Authority Licensing Services

Local Authority Licensing Services will be informed of concerns relating to licensed premises and taxi licensing. They will work with other agencies to reduce risks in licensed premises.


Working with sexually exploited children is a complex issue which can involve serious crime and investigations over a wide geographical area.

Children may be frightened of the consequences of disclosure and may need to be given time to discuss their experiences.

Work must focus on identifying perpetrators and disrupting activities, as well as supporting children to be safe.

The need to share information discreetly that in a timely fashion has been shown to be vital in these cases.

Gangs – sexual exploitation can be linked to gangs and groups and professionals need to be vigilant for this in working with young people (see Children Affected by Gang Activity or Serious Youth Violence).

Young Men - The risk of boys and young men becoming victims of sexual exploitation by both male and female offenders is underestimated and less well understood than those relating to girls and young women. Boys and young men also face additional barriers to disclosing their experience because they may be coerced into engaging in heterosexual and homosexual sexual activity (even though they are heterosexual) as part of their abuse. Barriers include:

  • Fearing that their sexuality/masculinity will be questioned;
  • Being perceived as being gay when they are not;
  • Worrying that they will not be believed;
  • Not perceiving themselves as a victim because their abuser is female.

See Resources to Use with Professionals.

Learning Disability – Children with learning disability may be at increased risk of CSE as they can be naïve and more trusting of adult approaches.

Young people with learning disabilities may need a tailored approach to the identification of risk and working with them to understand risks. See Barnardos Children with Learning Disabilities and CSE.

Young people, who are identified as being at risk of CSE, who move from one Local Authority to another will need an agency to agency notification of risks. This may be through school to school communication, Police force to Police force or referral between CSCs.

As services end, there must be clear ‘step-down’, which describes the risks that had been identified and informs the universal services working with the young person of triggers or indicators which would act as alerts that the situation was deteriorating.

Transition to Adult Services – as young people turn 18, many services available to them as children cease. Some young people will continue to be at risk of CSE or experiencing CSE. If they are an Adult at risk they will be considered under Safeguarding Adults procedures, otherwise they will be able to access sexual violence services for adults.

Adult survivors – Some adults who have experienced child sexual exploitation will need support to cope with the impact it has on them as adults and as parents.

Useful Information and Websites

Child Sexual Exploitation Flowchart

The flowchart can be used to understand the process to follow if vulnerability to CSE is a concern for a child.

Child Sexual Exploitation Risk Assessment Tool

The tool has been designed to assist practitioners with the process of identification and assessment of child sexual exploitation and then to help plan safe interventions and monitor effectiveness at the various levels of risk set out. The guidance below supports practitioners in using this tools.

CSE – Guidance on Using the Risks Assessment

Disruption Strategies

This document contains a list of possible ways to disrupt CSE.

Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation (2009)

What to do if you suspect a child is being sexually exploited

Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation

Multi-Agency Response to concerns about child sexual exploitation

This model of assessment, planning intervention and review shows how specific tools can be used in current processes.

Click here to view Model of Assessment, Planning Intervention and Review

Useful Websites

Bournemouth and Poole Local safeguarding Children Board

Dorset Safeguarding Children Board

Pan Dorset Multi-Agency Child Sexual Exploitation Strategy 2015-16

College of Policing – Responding to Child Sexual Exploitation

Resources for professionals working with young men

Barnardos – CSE web page

Louise Casey Report

LGA Tackling CSE

Hidden in Plain Sight Barnardos report

Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation – The Rotherham Response (March 2015)

Child Sexual Abuse - The Children's Commissioner

The Relational Safeguarding Model - Best practice in working with families affected by child sexual exploitation (2014)

Parents Against Child Exploitation

National Working Group Network – Tackling CSE

Medical Royal Colleges - Child Sexual Exploitation: Improving Recognition and Response in Health Settings (September 2014)

The RCGP/NSPCC Safeguarding Children Toolkit for General Practice


Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation: A Resource Pack for Councils - includes case studies

Responding to child sexual exploitation – College of Policing

Unprotected, overprotected: meeting the needs of young people with learning disabilities who experience, or are at risk of, sexual exploitation

Amendments to this Chapter

This chapter was updated in August 2017 when the definition of Child Sexual Exploitation was amended in line with the definition in Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015.