Child Sexual Exploitation (Children and Young People)

What is sexual exploitation?


Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a type of sexual abuse in which children are sexually exploited for money, power or status.

Sexual exploitation can involve swapping sexual favours for drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and other presents. Or it may be having sex for money with several adults. Young people may feel they must have sex because an adult gives them something, or because they feel threatened or frightened.

Some young people may want to have sex because they think the adult is their boyfriend or girlfriend. In reality they are being used for sex, and the ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ may pass them on to other people too. (Remember – sexual abusers can be women, as well as men.)

Sexual exploitation can also occur without any physical contact with children being groomed to post sexual images of themselves online or take part in sexual activities via webcam or smartphone.

Abusers and groomers are very manipulative and often a young person will not recognise that they are being sexually exploited

Sexual exploitation can happen to boys and young men as well as girls and young women. It can happen to a person of any background, race, ability, sexuality, and age.

How does it happen?

We know from experience that some grown-ups target young people and draw them into abusive sexual relationships. This is how it works:

  • Older adults show the young person a lot of interest and affection at the beginning, and make them feel special
  • Sometimes they ask groups of young people to come back to their house or parties with other adults, which makes the child feel grown up
  • They are offered drugs and alcohol, and a place to chill out
  • The young people may get presents like clothes, a mobile phone, or money to buy alcohol and cigarettes
  • After the grown-up has gained the young person’s trust and affection, things change
  • They will ask for sexual favours for themselves or other people, in return for alcohol, drugs, presents, money – all the things they started giving for free
  • They stop being nice and can become threatening or violent


This report looks at the progress that has been made in trying to stop child sexual exploitation in England since our Inquiry in 2011-2013.

cse cyp

If you or someone you know is affected by child sexual exploitation, your priority should be to get help as soon as you possibly can.

The person concerned may be worried about not being believed, or being judged. It’s important to remember that child sexual exploitation is never their fault, no matter how or why it happened.

Child sexual exploitation is a crime and there are several organisations, including Barnardo’s, that have special, expert services that can help those affected.

If you believe a child is in immediate danger, call the police on 999.

If you would like to report any concerns, please contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Worried about talking to us?

We understand it can be scary to come forward about child sexual exploitation, and it’s hard to know who to trust. Our expert staff can provide a safe, confidential environment, so victims can get all the help they need.

Barnardo’s is committed to helping young people break away from abuse, so they can look forward to the bright and exciting future they deserve.

just aint elfie

Free Zipit app

What does Zipit do?

If someone’s trying to get you to send them naked images of yourself, use the images on Zipit to keep the situation in control.

Zipit helps you get flirty chat back on the right track. It’s packed with killer comebacks and top tips to help you stay in control of your chat game.

  • Save images onto your device and share them with your friends!
  • Share images on Facebook, Twitter, BBM or via email.
  • Find out how to deal with a sexting crisis.
  • Get advice to help you flirt without failing.
  • Call ChildLine or save the number to your phone.

You can also share images from Zipit through other apps like Whatsapp or Instagram, depending on what kind of phone you have and what apps you have on your phone.

Free app/ free downloads

Organisations that can help


Barnardo’s provides a range of services to children, young people and families across the UK. Services address problems including sexual exploitation, substance misuse and homelessness,

Visit the Barnardo’s CSE website


Free, confidential 24-hour helpline that offers support for any kind of problem.

Tel: 0800 11 11

Visit the Childline website


Child protection helpline gives information, advice and counselling to anyone worried about a child.

Tel: 0808 800 5000

Visit the NSPCC CSE website



Children’s Voices – Research Report – University of Bedfordshire (December 2015)
Children and young people’s perspectives on the police’s role in safeguarding

Over the summer of 2015 researchers from the International Centre asked 45 children and young people across England, who had come into contact with the police because of safeguarding concerns, to tell them what the police did well and what they needed to do better. They were asked to do this work on behalf of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) as part of their child protection inspection programme. A report resulted which gathered young people’s experiences of criminal justice responses to child sexual exploitation

So what did they say?

The majority of participants recognised the contribution police could make in terms of ensuring a child or young person’s safety and pursuing perpetrators. The vast majority, however, would not directly approach the police for such support unless in immediate danger, preferring to have this access mediated through an individual they already knew like a trusted friend, family member or professional such as a teacher or a youth worker. Identified barriers to directly seeking help from the police included: being scared of the police; fear of repercussions; a lack of control over the information shared; fear of not being believed or of being treated like a criminal; and previous negative experiences of the police.

“There was a lot of things which I did want to go to the police for, but I was just too scared” (16 year old young woman)

Most of the children and young people that they spoke to felt that the police don’t always treat young people fairly and that some young people are treated less fairly than others. This can be because of their ethnicity or gender, or because of their, or their family’s, history with the police. This holds clear implications for their propensity to seek, or accept, support.

What can change?

The children and young people who took part in the work identified eight key components of an adequate and appropriate response when the police get involved in protecting children and young people from harm.  This good practice poster below is good practice for all professionals working with children and young people.

cse good practice

We need to listen to young people…they’re the experts

Young people addressing sexual violence in Europe

In the summer of 2014 the ‘Our Voices’ team at the International Centre partnered with various projects across Europe to run a series of consultations with ‘Youth Advisors’ across Albania, Bulgaria and the UK. Forty-seven young people, aged 11 to 25, took part in these consultations. The sessions looked at how to prevent sexual violence; what stops young people talking about these experiences; and accessing relevant support. This post highlights some of the messages of the report.

The Youth Advisers identified a number of barriers and challenges that prevented young people from understanding sexual violence and accessing support. These included:

  • Lack of information in schools and society
  • Failure of safe opportunities to talk about sex
  • Shame and embarrassment
  • Not being believed or supported
  • Fear and being scared
  • Not understanding the situation
  • Not knowing where to go for help
  • Not trusting professionals
  • Wanting to forget
  • Not understanding the systems
  • Lack of confidence in police systems and institutions

A short report about the findings can be found here;

Love, Sex, Conflict

Jigsaw 4U, Alford House, NSPCC, London

A film by a group of young people from different areas in London shot over two weeks in August 2013.

Love, Sex, Conflict is their response to issues associated with young women and men, gangs, sex and relationships.


‘Chelsea’s Choice’ Theatre Production in Harrow

For two weeks in December, the HSCB organised for the theatre production of ‘Chelsea’s Choice’ to visit high schools in Harrow, both colleges, the youth development team and also they ran 2 workshops with staff from across Harrow. Over 2,700 young people watched the performances, 80 staff members in the professionals’ sessions, plus teaching staff on the day and 30 CSE Training champions.  The HSCB is currently collecting feedback from young people who saw the production but the report below was written by Stanmore College and the Harrow Youth Parliament created a short recording gathering feedback from young people who watched the performance. 

At the end of the performance we gave out these CSE safety cards for all those who watched the performance. More can be ordered for free directly from Harrow SCB if you work in Harrow with young people:

What is ‘Chelsea’s Choice’?

Chelsea’s choice is an innovative 35 minute long theatre play highlighting the very serious and emotional issue of child sexual exploitation. The production shows how young people, boys and girls, are groomed by adults for the purposes of sexual exploitation using various methods, ensnaring young people and eventually taking complete control and dominating their whole lives. Students gained a better understanding of the devastating impact that sexual exploitation has on a young person’s life

The drama tells the story of a group of three students who discover the diary of a girl called Chelsea. Chelsea was a young girl who, having fallen out with her friends and family, was approached by a man called Gary. Gary was older, owned a car, had a flat and treated her like an adult. Unfortunately Gary was not what he seemed to be! Chelsea’s story is played out and examined by the three students along with their teacher in an attempt to understand what happened to Chelsea and how it could have been prevented.”

These are the key points that young from Stanmore College drew from the ‘Chelsea’s Choice’ performance:

  • Set your private settings to high on all social media sites.
  • Don’t upload things that make your usual location easily known to all.
  • Xbox – people met playing online games such as Call of Duty have been groomers who use the game as a way to get information about individuals over a long period of time.
  • Sexting can ruin your life – do not share images, sharing images is child porn, it would result in you being added to the record as a sex offender for the rest of your life. If you receive an obscene photograph report it to the police.
  • People you meet who try to befriend you through unusual circumstances may misuse knowledge they have of you for their exploitation. Giving you gifts such as a smart phone (which can be tracked) etc is not always a good thing and can be a warning sign.
  • Usually when a young person is “acting up” it’s a cry for help – something is happening in their lives though occasional acting up is part of growing up.
  • The legal age for consent is 16 but young people are protected up to the age of 18.
  • At a party keep an eye on your drink to ensure no one puts anything in it.
  • If you don’t feel safe where you are, say you need to leave and go.

The most important point for young people is talk to someone, staff at college/school, parents, someone at home, or a helpline such as #SaySomething or the police.

Normal friendships are healthy relationships – you shouldn’t have to change yourself, what you like or be turned against your family or friends.

Don’t be afraid to tell a responsible adult – it’s not your fault even if someone tried to make you believe it is.

You could have heard a pin drop in the Main hall at the College, such was the interest and attention shown by the young students. When it comes to safety and dealing with difficult situations growing up, this was certainly one of the most useful seminars the College has hosted.

Harrow Youth Parliament – Chelsea’s Choice Responses in MP3


Students at Harrow College who also viewed ‘Chelsea’s Choice’ said:

L2 Student comments:
“They need to go to every high school and college”
“Parents need to see this show”
“The actors were really good at telling it as it is for us today”
“I feel sorry for the girl in this story”

L3 Learner comments:
“it was wicked”
“Builds awareness for teenagers, abit younger than us”
“ Good way to learn something through a drama”
“Before hand when we were told we were going to watch a play, we thought it was a joke, however when it came to watching it, everybody’s opinion changed a lot”.
“Afterwards it spiked a big discussion between peers in my group”.

Tutor comments on the performance:
Our students were totally focused on the performance. Actors were very loud in places, but this was necessary to get the point across. Pitched at this age group very well. Liked that there was a discussion and question time after the performance so that students could voice their opinions or concerns.

‘Say Something’ Helpline

The helpline is run by the charity Missing People, in association with the National Working Group Network, and is funded by the Department of Education. Callers will be offered advice and, where appropriate, necessary or requested, access to the police to ensure protection and safeguarding.

Download Briefing for Young People

Tel: 01332 585371

Barnardo’s Wud U? App

Wud U? is a free educational tool that aims to show young people the behaviours that could put them at risk of being sexually exploited, through illustrated, interactive stories.

Wud U? will help you to present sensitive issues to your group of young people. You will be able to discuss the decisions they would make if they were in the same situations as the characters in the stories. The app also offers advice about these decisions.

The Wud U? app will help you to:

  • demonstrate how young people can make safe decisions
  • provide your group with more information about sexual exploitation, from a trusted source
  • raise awareness of sexual exploitation by sharing the app with other professionals.

Barnardo’s would like to thank Microsoft and the young people we work with for helping us to develop this app.

Protecting children from harm: A critical assessment of child sexual abuse in the family network in England and priorities for action

This report outlines the findings of the first phase of the Children’s Commissioner for England’s Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in the Family Environment. In this phase of the Inquiry, the Commissioner aimed to assess the scale and nature of child sexual abuse in the family environment in England which is currently detected and undetected by statutory agencies.

Download Protecting Children from Harm – Young People’s Version


Its Not Okay
It’s not okay for someone to manipulate you into doing sexual things for their own or someone else’s benefit. If you’re under 18, this is called child sexual exploitation and it is against the law.

This website contains information for young people, parents, carers, and professionals. Report child sexual exploitation to the police by dialling 101. If you or a young person you care about is in immediate danger, dial 999.

Healthy and unhealthy relationships

Lots of young people have been contacting Childline about their relationships. Now you can get advice and support to help them work out what feels right.

Follow this link to find out more

New Childline campaign highlights unhealthy relationships

Watch: The Game and The Party films

Watch “#ListenToYourSelfie | The Game | Childline” on YouTube;

Watch “#ListenToYourSelfie  | The Party | Childline” on YouTube;



What to do if you are worried about a child. To discuss concerns or make a referral: