Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a type 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 (All Wales Child Protection Procedures Review Group 2013; Department for Education, 2017; NIdirect, 2018; Scottish Government, 2018;).
Children and young people in sexually exploitative situations and relationships are persuaded or forced to perform sexual activities or have sexual activities performed on them in return for gifts, drugs, money or affection.
CSE can take place in person, online, or using a combination of both.
Perpetrators of CSE use a power imbalance to exploit children and young people. This may arise from a range of factors including:
- sexual identity
- cognitive ability
- physical strength
- access to economic or other resources
(Department of Education, 2017).
Sexual exploitation is a hidden crime. Young people have often been groomed into trusting their abuser and may not understand that they're being abused. They may depend on their abuser and be too scared to tell anyone what's happening because they don’t want to get them in trouble or risk losing them. They may be tricked into believing they're in a loving, consensual relationship.
Some children and young people are trafficked into or within the UK for sexual exploitation.
Child sexual exploitation online
When sexual exploitation happens online, young people may be persuaded or forced to:
- have sexual conversations by text or online
- send or post sexually explicit images of themselves
- take part in sexual activities via a webcam or smartphone
(Hamilton-Giachritsis et al, 2017).
Abusers may threaten to send images, video or copies of conversations to the young person's friends and family unless they take part in further sexual activity. Images or videos may continue to be shared long after the sexual abuse has stopped.