SEFTON SCP Safeguarding Policies and Procedures Online Manual

    16.2 What is Child Sexual Exploitation

    Last updated 12/11/2018

    What is Child Sexual Exploitation

    It is vitally important that all partners involved in dealing with child sexual exploitation understand what child sexual exploitation is and how this differs from other forms of sexual abuse and recognise the indicators.

    Sefton SCP has adopted the definition of child sexual exploitation which is set out in statutory guidance:

    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.

    Models of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

    Perpetrators ‘groom’ a child for sexual exploitation in a process designed to break down the child’s defences and existing relationships with family and friends to establish control. ‘Grooming’ is like a process of recruitment and the victims are introduced into a lifestyle which they are made to believe is normal, but which is actually abusive. This may take place online or offline and could include violence, lies, blackmail, or threats. Once groomed, the child is expected to participate in sexual activities, often in exchange for something such as alcohol, gifts, money, affection, drugs, or a place to stay.

    There is no stereotypical victim of exploitation; there are warning signs in young people’s behaviour that may indicate that something is wrong. Any child or young person may be at risk of sexual exploitation, regardless of their family background or other circumstances. Children involved in any form of sexual exploitation should be treated primarily as the victims of abuse and their needs carefully assessed; the aim should be to protect them from further harm and they should not be treated as criminals. The primary law enforcement response should be directed at perpetrators who groom children for sexual exploitation.

    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 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, bullying, self-harm, teenage pregnancy, truancy 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, forced marriage and those involved in gangs.

    The website ‘Listen to My Story’ has been developed by Merseyside Police, local councils, safeguarding children boards and third sector agencies throughout the Merseyside area to raise awareness with the public of Merseyside so they know what CSE is, can recognise the warning signs, know how to report it and know where to find help from their local specialist team. The website also has a section for professionals and the resources contained within are added to continuously.

    Linked procedures:

    SSCP E Safety Strategy

    Sefton SCP Trafficking Procedure (clarity re: NRM) (Section 19)

    SSCP Child Exploitation Procedure

    Pan Merseyside Protocols:

    Missing Protocol

    Forced Marriage & Honour Based Violence

    Child Exploitation

    Due to the grooming methods used by abusers, it is very common for children and young people not to recognise that they are being sexually exploited. Practitioners should be aware that particularly young people aged 17 and 18 may believe themselves to be acting voluntarily and will need practitioners to help them recognise that they are being sexually exploited.

    Sexual exploitation 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.   In exploitation situations there is an imbalance of power, whereby the perpetrator always holds some kind of power over the victim, increasing the dependence of the victim as the exploitation develops. The following examples describe different models of exploitation used by perpetrators to sexually exploit children.

    The ‘Boyfriend model’

    Perpetrators target children posing as ‘boyfriends’, showering the child with attention and gifts to cause infatuation. They initiate a sexual relationship with the child, which the child is expected to return as ‘proof’ of her/his love or as a way of returning the initial attention and gifts. The child is effectively told that they owe the perpetrators money for cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, car rides etc. and that sexual activities are one way of ‘paying it back’.

    Peer on Peer Exploitation

    Children are sexually exploited by peers who are known to them at school, in the neighbourhood or through mutual friends.

    Exploitation through Befriending and Grooming

    Children are befriended directly by the perpetrator (in person or online) or through other children and young people. This process may begin with a girl (or boy) being targeted and befriended by a young boy or girl usually known to her as an equal, i.e. a classmate, a friend of a sibling, or a neighbour.

    This introductory young person later introduces the child to either one or more older men, whom s/he may describe as an older sibling or cousin. The older men offer the child attention in the form of gifts, flashy cars, cigarettes, alcohol and drugs.

    To the child, it is new and exciting. The older men treat the child as an adult and deliberately portray her/his parents as unreasonable and overly-strict, should they seek to intervene.


    This can occur quickly and without any grooming. Typically older males identify vulnerable young people who may already have a history of being groomed and or sexually abused. The perpetrator will offer a young person a ‘reward’ or payment in exchange for sexual acts. The perpetrator is often linked with a social network of abusive adults.

    Online CSE

    New technologies and social networking sites or online gaming, present further opportunities for social interaction. They also bring new risks and increase the opportunity for offenders to target vulnerable young people. Offenders access social media platforms, for example, Facebook, Blackberry messaging (BBM) and Twitter to identify young people whom they can groom.

    Technology can facilitate sexual exploitation of children. Where abusive images have been posted on, or shared via, the internet, there is little control over who can access them. This can lead to repeat victimisation. The NWG Network 2013 study, If you Shine a Light you will probably find it, also identified that GPS technology available for mobile devices can be used to identify the location where a photograph was taken, which may increase the risk to the victim. The software can be downloaded freely and provides the coordinates of where the digital image was taken, to within a matter of yards.

    CSE can occur through the use of technology without the child realising it. For example, a child or young person is persuaded to post images of themselves on the internet and/ or mobile phones. In some cases, the images are subsequently used as a bargaining tool by the perpetrators and threats of violence and intimidation are used as methods of coercion.

    Offenders may use technology to exploit children and young people in the following ways:

    • Harassment and bullying through text messaging
    • Purchasing mobile phones for victims and sharing their numbers among group or gang members
    • Randomly contacting children via social networking sites
    • Using ‘friends’ lists on networking sites of known victims to target children
    • and young people
    • Viewing extreme or violent pornography and discussing it during sexual
    • assaults
    • Posting images of victims with rival gang members to invite a sexual assault as punishment
    • Filming and distributing incidents of rape and sexual violence
    • Distributing lists of children for the purpose of sexual exploitation

    The Child Exploitation On-line Protection (CEOP) ‘Thinkuknow’ website provides information for children and young people on how they can protect themselves online. Parents, carers and teachers can also use the website to understand how they can help to protect children in their care while they are using the internet.

    The ‘Party’ Model

    Parties are organised by groups of men or women to lure young people. Young people are offered drinks, drugs and car rides often for free. They are introduced to an exciting environment and a culture where sexual promiscuity and violence is normalised. Parties are held at various locations and children are persuaded (sometimes financially) to bring their peers along. Children are also encouraged to associate with others via Facebook, Bebo, ooVoo, etc. The parties may be held some distance from the child’s home, enabling the perpetrators to force the child to have sex in return for a lift home. Drugs and alcohol are used to suppress the children’s resistance. Images may be taken of them without their clothes for purpose of future bribery.

    Organised / Networked Sexual Exploitation or Trafficking

    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 or shopping centres or sites on the Internet. Sexual exploitation has strong links with other forms of 'crime', for example the distribution of abusive images of children and child trafficking. As stated in the LSCB Trafficking Procedure, if it is thought a child has been trafficked a referral must be made to the National Crime Agency via using the National Referral Mechanism.

    Whilst it is not known how prevalent it is, sexual exploitation has become increasingly recognisable as practitioners gain more understanding of grooming and other methods of sexual exploitation and begin to take a proactive and coordinated approach to deal with it.