What is sexual exploitation?

What is sexual exploitation?

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

Some people form relationships with children and young people to use them for sex. People who do this may want you to think they are your friend, or your boyfriend or girlfriend. They want to gain your trust to get power over you. They might also use bribes, threats, humiliation and even violence to get power over you.

How does child sexual exploitation happen?

Children or young people may be tricked into believing they’re in a loving, consensual relationship. The person who is exploiting you may well give you gifts, treat you as an adult and be very friendly to you to gain your trust. This can happen face-to-face, or online.

Once they have gained your trust, they will begin to exert their power over you. In some situations, an abuser will give a child or a young person gifts (such as food, alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes) if they take part in sexual activities with them or other people. In other situations, the abusers will be more affectionate to a young victim if they take part in sexual activities, or use threats, violence or humiliation if they refuse to take part.

Young people can be trafficked into the UK from other countries for sexual exploitation. Some young people also get trafficked within the UK. Some young people can become victims of sexual exploitation through gangs – this can be through rival gangs or members of their own gang.

Sexual exploitation is a crime which happens to boys and girls, and it can be really hard to spot. Often people think they’re in a good relationship, even after things have turned bad. But there are warning signs. It’s really important that you know how to spot them so you can protect yourself and your friends.

What are the warning signs?

To get to know you they give you lots of attention. We all like attention and it’s nice to feel wanted. But if someone tries to get to know by giving you lots of attention, ask yourself – what do they really want?

They give you gifts, like phone credit, alcohol, drugs or money. This can be exciting and make you feel good about someone, but if they want sex in return they are trying to exploit you.

They try to isolate you from your friends or family. They will say that they are the only person you need. They might tell you that your friends or family won’t understand or you’ll be in trouble. Remember, the people who care about you will want to protect you.

They have mood swings. If someone flips between being ‘very nice’ and ‘very nasty’, you can feel like you need to do things to keep them happy. This can be a sign they are trying to control you.

They control you with promises and threats. Abusers use many tricks to control young people. They may make promises they can’t keep, ask you to keep secrets or threaten you. Some become violent.

What can I do?

If you are a victim of child sexual exploitation, the pain of what you’ve been through, and the fear that you might not be believed, can make it very difficult and scary to tell people what has happened. But talking to someone about what you’ve been through can make it easier to deal with, and make sure that the sexual abuse stops.

Whatever you are worried about; remember that it’s not your fault, and that you haven’t done anything wrong. Some things you can do are:

  • Tell an adult you trust – this could be a teacher, a family member, your youth worker, social worker or support worker. It can be difficult to know how to have this conversation, so we have some tips on asking for help.
  • Think about reporting what has happened to the police; they should take your complaint very seriously, and ensure that you are referred for further support.
  • With a safe adult, you could develop a safety plan that would help you choose how best to keep yourself safe.
  • Talk to your friends. A good friend will listen to you and may help you speak to an adult.
  • If you are worried about a friend, we have some tips on how you can start the conversation and get them the right help.