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.

This film, about 15-year-old Kayleigh Haywood, was created by Leicestershire Police to warn children and adults about the dangers of grooming and sexual exploitation.

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

We're committed to tackling this issue and highlighting that it's everyone’s responsibility to safeguard and protect children.

Our Onyx Team gathers intelligence about CSE, so we can prevent further offences, protect victims and pursue offenders.

If you have questions about CSE, or would like help or support, please email the Onyx Team or call 101 to speak to an officer. If you need help in an emergency, always call 999.

With partner agencies, we've also launched Operation Net Safe, a Wales-wide campaign that targets people who are creating, viewing and sharing sexually explicit images of young people under 18 online.

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.

Local links

Local authority social services

Duty officers: 01248 752722 or 01248 752733 from 8.45am to 5.00pm.

Alternatively, you can speak to a social worker on 01248 353551 outside office hours.

Please contact the Children and Families Service if you or your family need support, advice or help.

During office hours: 01758 704455 (Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 5.00pm)
Outside office hours: 01248 353551

During office hours: 01492 575111 (Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 5.00pm)
Outside office hours: 01492 515777

During office hours: 01824 712200 (Monday to Thursday, 8.30am to 5.00pm; Friday, 8.30am to 4.30pm)
Outside office hours: 0845 053 3116

Children’s Social Services: 01352 701000
Outside office hours: 0845 053 3116

During office hours: 01978 292039
Outside office hours: 0845 053 3116