Child sexual exploitation involves situations, contexts or relationships in which a person under 18 is given something, such as food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts or money in return for performing sexual activities or having sexual activities performed on them. It can also involve violence, coercion and intimidation, with threats of physical harm or humiliation.

Most victims don’t realise they’re being exploited. Read Samantha's story, which is just one example of how exploitation can happen.

Samantha's story

My sister is so cool. She’s older than me and has so many friends. She’s always out. Every weekend she goes to parties and she’d tell me that there were loads of older good looking boys there who’d buy drinks for her. She’s having so much fun.

Well that’s what I thought anyway. Until she invited me out with them.

I remember her telling me when we got there that I’d have to do things I wasn't expecting if I wanted her friends to like me. I didn’t know what she meant exactly but didn’t think it would be too hard; I’d just follow her lead.

It turned out that she meant drinking and smoking…and letting them touch her. I remember thinking she’s looks fine so it must be OK so I did what I said I’d do; I followed her lead.

I thought that’s just what grown-ups do. Then one day I caught her out the corner of my eye and she looked petrified. I started to think it wasn’t OK, that it was wrong. I even think that she invited me because they told her to. What do we do now?

Common patterns

In all cases of child sexual exploitation (CSE), the person exploiting the child or young person is able to create the impression of authority over them in some form. This could be because of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength or economic situation.

Sexual exploitation of children can start through the use of technology, without them immediately realising. For example, they might be persuaded to post images on the internet or via mobile phone without immediate payment or personal gain.

Violence, coercion and intimidation are common, with a particular vulnerability of the child or young person being used against them. This can make the young person feel as though they have no choice but to continue the relationship.

Warning signs

Signs of a child or young person being in an exploitative relationship can vary. Some examples are:

  • going missing from home or care
  • physical injuries
  • misuse of drugs or alcohol
  • involvement in offending
  • repeat sexually-transmitted infections, pregnancies or terminations
  • absenteeism from school
  • deterioration in physical appearance
  • evidence of online sexual bullying
  • evidence of vulnerability on social networking sites
  • emotional distance from family members
  • receiving gifts from unknown sources
  • recruiting others into exploitative situations
  • poor mental health
  • self-harming
  • thinking about or attempting suicide

If you suspect a person of carrying out child sexual exploitation, or think someone you know has been a victim, or may be soon, visit our How to report possible child abuse page or call our non-emergency number, 101. If you have a hearing or speech impairment, use our textphone service on 18001 101.

If someone is in immediate danger of harm, please call 999 now. If you have a hearing or speech impairment, use our textphone service 18000 or text us on 999 if you’ve pre-registered with the emergencySMS service.

What are we doing about child sexual exploitation

There are dedicated teams throughout Kent working to help victims of child abuse. 

These teams work closely with victims to get them to recognise they've been, or are being, exploited.

Kent Police's CSE Team is part of Operation Willow, which brings police together with Kent County Council, Medway Council and the NHS to respond to concerns and promote awareness of CSE.

Operation Willow also works with people who could come across exploited children, such as taxi drivers, school staff, GPs, hotel workers and pub landlords, children’s home managers and youth workers.

Useful links

A national charity helping children in poverty, supporting young carers and helping families looking to foster or adopt.

National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)
A national children's charity, preventing abuse and helping those affected to recover.

Parents Against Child Exploitation (PACE)
The leading national charity working with parents and carers of sexually exploited children.

A UK organisation campaigning against child trafficking and exploitation.

Kent Safeguarding Children Board
Information and advice for professionals working with children in Kent.

Medway Safeguarding Children Board
Information and advice for children and young people, parents and carers, professionals and volunteers.

Dandelion Trust
Offers help to children and families to recover from traumatic experiences.