Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a form of child sexual abuse where an individual or a group of people takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child (anyone under the age of 18) into sexual activity for which the child receives something they want or need in exchange. This could be food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, money, gifts or affection. This could also be for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator. A victim may initially think the relationship is consensual. Child sexual exploitation can occur online, as well as in person, and does not always include physical contact.*

Although some children are more vulnerable than others, any child could be a victim of sexual exploitation, regardless of their background, upbringing, race, ethnicity, sexuality or gender. The young person affected may believe that they are in a loving, consensual relationship when in fact they are being groomed by a perpetrator or group of perpetrators for the purpose of being sexually exploited further down the line.

Child sexual exploitation can begin without the victim’s knowledge. This is known as grooming. For example, a young person may be persuaded to post or send sexual photographs on the internet or via mobile phones without receiving any benefit themselves.

Child sexual exploitation can and does affect 16 and 17 year olds who can legally consent to sex.

In all cases of child sexual exploitation, those doing the exploiting have power or influence over their victim. This can be due to a difference in age, gender, intelligence, wealth or physical strength.

This abuse can be perpetrated by individuals or groups, males or females, and children or adults. The abuse can be a one-off occurrence or a series of incidents over time, and range from opportunistic to complex organised abuse.

*This definition has been adapted from the 2017 guidance from the Government Department for Education (DfE).