Children and young people who are sexually exploited and /or trafficked can be heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, they can be female, male or transgender.

However many of those who are victimised may be reluctant to disclose offences or seek support, often due to stigma, prejudice or embarrassment or the fear that they will not be believed. They may see themselves as able to protect themselves but in cases of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) physical stature is irrelevant due to the coercion and manipulation used.

Despite media focus, the majority of those who are victimised are not ‘looked after’ children.

It is estimated that only 20 – 25% of victimised children and young people are ‘looked after’. Children and young people living at home can be just as vulnerable, if not more vulnerable as they may not be known to social services and therefore are less likely to be identified as at risk of Child Sexual Exploitation.

Young people are groomed and sexually exploited in many different forms. This could be online, through street gangs, in religious environments, and by those in positions of authority including celebrity. The common theme in all cases is the imbalance of power and the control exerted on young people by the exploiter / perpetrator.

Those children and young people who are being victimised may appear to be willing accomplices however this should be seen in the context of the controls exerted by the perpetrator and the submission of the child/young person to them.

Evidence shows that Child Sexual Exploitation can and does happen in all parts of our country.

CSE is not restricted to urban areas such as large towns and cities but does in fact happen in rural areas such as villages and coastal areas.

Spot the Warning Signs

Children are groomed and exploited in different ways.

It may be difficult for parents, carers and frontline professionals to differentiate between ordinary teenage behaviour and the risk of or involvement in sexual exploitation but there are some signs that may signify that children or young people are being groomed for sexual exploitation or actually being sexually exploited.

There are helpful resources and information on our Stop-CSE website HERE

You may also find this spot the signs  Infograph useful

  • Rapid change in physical appearance- new clothes, more/less make up,
  • Poor self-image
  • Weight gain/loss
  • Self-harm
  • Having increased health/sexual health related problems
  • Pelvic-inflammatory disease
  • Repeat sexually transmitted infections/testing
  • Repeat pregnancy/miscarriages/termination
  • Having marks or scars on their body which they try to conceal by refusing to undress or uncover parts of their body
  • Mental health problems
  • Suicide ideation
  • Multiple personality disorders
  • Psychosis
  • sleep disorders/nightmares
  • Significant eating problems
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Drug abuse
  • Solvent abuse
  • Repeat or chronic alcohol abuse
  • Exclusion and/or unexplained absences from school or not engaged in education or training. Non school attendance or excluded due to behaviour
  • Isolated from peers and social networks; not mixing with their usual friends
  • Becoming involved in criminality/repeat offending
  • Being defensive about where they have been and what they have been doing
  • Disclosure of physical/ sexual assault and then refusing to make or withdrawing a complaint
  • Being hostile or physically aggressive in their relationship with parents/carers or other family members
  • Increased use of online gaming including Xbox
  • Use of the internet that causes concern including possible use of web cam
  • ‘Sexting’ (the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photographs, primarily between mobile phones)
  • Getting into cars with unknown adults or associating with known CSE adults
  • Being secretive or withdrawn
  • Overtly sexualised dress
  • Associating with other sexually exploited children
  • Physical or emotional abuse by ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’ or controlling adult
  • Regularly coming home late or going missing overnight or longer
  • Living independently and failing to respond to attempts by workers to keep in touch.
  • Having money, mobile phones, credit for mobile phones, sim cards, cloths, jewellery or other items without plausible explanation and not given by parents/carers
  • Becoming disruptive at home or school or using offensive language
  • Being defensive about where they have been and what they have been doing
  • Disappearing from the ‘system’ with no contact or support
  • Older ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’ or relationship with a controlling adult
  • Unusual association with taxi drivers/firms
  • Having multiple mobile phones, sim cards or use of a mobile phone that causes concern; multiple callers, more texts than usual
  • Reports of being involved in CSE through being seen in hotspots (i.e. in certain flats, recruiting grounds, cars or houses and maybe in company of known CSE adults)
  • Unsuitable or inappropriate accommodation (including street homelessness, staying with adults known to be involved in CSE and living in a place where needs are not met)
  • Association with gangs
  • Being involved in witchcraft
  • Having possession of hotel keys/key cards or keys to unknown premises
  • Knowledge of towns and cities they have no previous connection with
  • Frequent use of public transport
  • Receiving rewards of money or goods for recruiting peers into CSE or just introducing peers to known adults
  • Volatile/criminal behaviour
  • Being a victim of honour based violence
  • Child under 16 meeting different adults and exchanging or selling sexual activity
  • Child under 13 engaging in penetrative sex with another over 15 years
  • Being taken to clubs and hotels by adults and engaging in sexual activity
  • Being taken abroad by family members (forced marriage)
  • Removed from known ‘red light’ district by professionals due to suspected CSE
  • Associating/developing a sexual relationship with older men or women
  • Being taken to brothels/massage parlours
  • Returning home after long intervals but appearing well cared for
  • Lack of positive relationship with a protective, nurturing adult
  • Abduction and forced imprisonment
  • Being bought/sold for sexual acts


Can you spot the abuser?

Research into CSE shows that there is not one type of abuser.

Perpetrators of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) can be male or female, come from any ethnic background and be any age . They may have a low social and/or economic status or they could be a wealthy individual in a considerable position of authority. By raising awareness of CSE we hope that more people will think, spot and speak out against abuse. 

35% of all sexual crimes recorded in England and Wales in 2012/13 were sexual crimes against children under 16.

An Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s Inquiry was repeatedly informed of occasions when the primary groomer, or connection to a wider network of perpetrators, belonged, or was connected to, a victim’s family. Recent research conducted by the NSPCC indicates that around 5% of UK children suffer contact sexual abuse at some point during childhood. It is likely that around 190,000 of these will fall victim to contact sexual abuse by a stranger or an adult relative (other than a parent or guardian) before turning 18. This represents an average of more than 10,000 new victims in the UK every year.

An Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s Inquiry heard of individuals who would find and groom children and young people using social networking sites, meet them in person, and then circulate them among their friends who would exploit them. CSE involves the abusive exercise of power by perpetrators over those who are vulnerable.

The abuse of the power and authority that comes with status, be that celebrity or otherwise, certainly remains a potential threat to children. Exploitation can also involve opportunistic or organised networks of perpetrators who may profit financially from trafficking children / young people between different locations to engage in sexual activity often with multiple men.

An Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s Inquiry was told of bus and coach stations being used by perpetrators to spot and recruit children and young people for sexual exploitation. This was particularly the case where they were running away from home or living on the street. More than one in three children (34%) who experienced contact sexual abuse by an adult did not tell anyone else about it.

Compared with ‘single-perpetrator’ sexual violence, group-based sexual offending is committed more frequently by offenders in their teens and early twenties, as opposed to those who offend alone.

Technology is widely used by perpetrators as a method of grooming and coercing victims, often through social networking sites and mobile devices.


Sexual exploitation is a complex problem with social, legal, political, economic and ethical dimensions.

It takes many singular and interrelated forms including pornography, prostitution, paedophilia, trafficking in human beings, and affects people of different ages, sexes and communities. Sexual exploitation has profound and damaging consequences for individuals exploited and those around them including families and communities. Targeting and grooming of children often brings psychological implications for parents and other family members; it can become almost impossible for them to carry on with their life and be able to respond effectively to the crises at hand. They feel their lives have been turned upside down from a situation they have never anticipated. It can undermine parents’ capacity to respond proactively to the needs of their children. Lack of knowledge of the operation of abusers, patterns of grooming, impact of exploitation on their children can contribute to crises, pushing parents into despair.

Families in such situations need advice and support. PACE has been pioneering in support work to parents affected by child sexual exploitation. Founded by an affected parent, PACE continues to be driven by the experiences and needs of affected parents and works alongside them so that they can become active agents in responding to the sexual exploitation and abuse of their children.

Information provided by PACE (UK) (Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation). More information on supporting parents can be found on the PACE website.


Real Stories

Read Megan’s story.

Read Callum’s story.

Read Daniel’s story.

Report an Incident 

First it’s important to remember that the Police care a lot about children and young people being safe. CSE is against the law. If you, or someone else, is in immediate danger then dial 999 and ask for help from the Police.

To report a concern contact your Local Safeguarding Children Board or Local Authorities Children’s Services who will also be able help you.

As parent you can also contact Parents Against Child Exploitation –

Missing People Help Line

Missing People is the only charity in the UK which specialises in, and is dedicated to, bringing missing children and adults back together with their families.

NWG work closely with Missing People to provide the best response for victims of CSE and their families.

Call Freephone: 116 000 or     Text: 116 000

Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs)

Your local Safeguarding Children Board will also be able help you.

LSCBs in London

Birmingham LSCB

Manchester LSCB

Coventry LSCB

A list of Safeguarding Boards can be found on our service directory – if you cannot find yours search Google for your areas LSCB e.g. Coventry LSCB to find their contact details.

NWG Network

If you’re not sure who the best organisation is to contact then talk to us and we will put you in touch with the right people to help you.

Call: 01332 585371

Or visit our service directory map shown on the homepage this is divided by regions.

Other help

CEOP … Think U know

The latest information on the sites you like to visit, mobiles and new technology. Find out what’s good, what’s not and what you can do about it. If you look after young people there’s an area for you too – with resources you can use in the classroom or at home. Most importantly, there’s also a place that anyone can use to report if they feel uncomfortable or worried about someone they are chatting to online.