You may have heard of the term 'child sexual exploitation' but what it is and what does it mean?

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child abuse and it is illegal.

It’s when a child or young person (anyone under the age of 18), engages in sexual activity as a result of receiving something such as food, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, accommodation, drugs, money, or affection.

It’s a process of grooming where the abuser targets a child’s vulnerability, makes them feel loved or wanted as though the relationship is normal when in fact the child is being controlled through intimidation, fear or violence.

It can happen to boys as well as girls, from rich and poor backgrounds, of any ethnicity and anywhere in the world, including here in Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth and Southampton.

It can happen through direct contact and through technology such as mobile phones and the internet.

Advice for parents, carers and other concerned adults 

What makes a child vulnerable to sexual exploitation?
Some factors can make some children more vulnerable to child sexual exploitation, however it is important to know that any children could become a victim even children from loving and secure homes. CSE is not linked to their age, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, but their powerlessness and susceptibility to being exploited.

What are the warning signs that a child is being sexually exploited?
These can include, but are not limited to, one or a number of the following: 

  • Acting secretively
  • Having mood swings or changes in behaviour or emotional wellbeing
  • They’re absent or truant from school or show a lack of interest or sudden poor performance
  • Going missing or regularly coming home late
  • Coming home with unexplained or new possessions
  • Drug or alcohol misuse
  • Becoming suddenly hostile or estranged from their family or friends
  • Dramatic changes to their appearance, maybe wearing inappropriate clothing
  • They’re seen getting into or out of vehicles with unknown adults
  • They become involved in petty crime such as shoplifting or stealing
  • They have more than one or share their boyfriend or girlfriend
  • They become sexually active, pregnant or seeking an abortion or treatment for sexual diseases
  • They’re getting phone calls and/or text messages from unknown adults
  • They have unexplained injuries consistent with sexual or physical assault
  • They self-harm or are having suicidal thoughts or tendencies
  • They're behaving inappropriately, being over-familiar with strangers, sending sexual images via the internet or mobile phones  

Spot the Signs - Barnardo's leaflet for parents and carers

What can I do to protect children?

  • Talk to your children and young people about what makes a healthy relationship and help them make decisions about what’s right for them.  A healthy relationship is:
    • Where you respect each other
    • You feel happy, loved and safe
    • You are not made to do things that hurt you, make you feel uncomfortable or scared
    • Your boyfriend / girlfriend should never try to pressure, control or intimidate you.
    • Read more at Disrespect Nobody.
  • Don’t judge your child, listen, support and help.
  • Be aware of the warning signs that a child may be experiencing sexual exploitation.
  • Find out more about child sexual exploitation. There is lots of information available from Barnardo’s and the NSPCC plus links to further support here.
  • There’s also plenty of advice about staying safe online from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre which has also developed Think U Know for 11-13s and 14+
  • Tell someone about any concerns you might have about children at risk or suspected offenders.

How can I report my concerns?
In an emergency, if a child is in immediate danger, always call 999. Otherwise, you can call police on 101 or click here for other means of contacting us.  For further advice and support and to report concerns, you can also speak with the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000. 

Should I be concerned about my children?
We are providing this information to help raise awareness of the issues of child sexual exploitation. We hope that by doing so it will help people spot the signs and encourage them to seek support and advice for any concerns they may have.

There is nothing to suggest there is an increased risk of child sexual exploitation in our communities and nothing that should cause you to be alarmed or change the way you go about your day-to-day life.

All we would ask you to do is to remain vigilant and keep an eye out for the signs of child sexual exploitation.

Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation (PACE) has a parents forum and further advice and guidance.

What are the police doing about it?
Hampshire Constabulary is committed to pro-actively identifying vulnerable children and young people at risk of sexual exploitation and we’ve put a lot of resources into ensuring all our officers and staff can recognise the signs.

Together with our partners in local authorities, education and health, we’re working to ensure children at risk are properly protected and safeguarded.

Sometimes it can be years before someone who’s been the victim of child abuse comes forward to report it.

Whatever the situation, we take all reports of child abuse seriously and have specially trained officers in our Child Abuse Investigation teams who can support victims through the interview, investigation and court processes. The Goldstone team works closely with the Child Abuse Investigation Team and partners in the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub to keep young people at risk of child sexual exploitation safe.

We also have an Internet Child Abuse team which is dedicated to proactively investigating incidents of online abuse including the making, possession and distribution of indecent images of children.

If you work in safeguarding, take a look at further resources available for practitioners.