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Child Sexual Exploitation


  1. Introduction
  2. Definition
  3. Training
  4. Risks (Practice Guidance)
  5. Indicators (Practice Guidance)
  6. Children who go Missing (Practice Guidance)
  7. Issues (Practice Guidance)
  8. Identifying and Prosecuting Perpetrators (Practice Guidance)
  9. Protection and Action to be Taken (Procedure)
  10. Supporting Children out of Child Sexual Exploitation (Procedure)
  11. Children Placed in Cumbria by other Local Authorities (Procedure)
  12. Supporting Children through Related Legal Proceedings (Procedure)

    Appendix 1.1: CSE Flowchart Child not on EHA CiN CP or CLA Plan

    Appendix 1.2: CSE Flowchart Child has EHA in Place

    Appendix 1.3: CSE Flowchart Referral to District or Child Already on a SW Plan

    Appendix 1.4: CSE Flowchart Child not on an EHA, CiN, CP or CLA plan and is open to Youth Offending Service

    Appendix 2: CSE Screening Tool

    Appendix 3: CSE Risk Assessment Tool

    Appendix 4: CSE Risk Indicators Guidance Sheet for Practitioners

    Appendix 5: Cumbria Categories of CSE

    Appendix 6: CSE Multi-Agency Safety Plan

    Appendix 7: Disruption Tool

    Appendix 8: Joint CSE High Level Case Concern Toolkit

    Further Information

    Amendments to this Chapter

1. Introduction

The policy position in Cumbria is that all practitioners working with children and young people will:

2. Definition

The Child sexual exploitation: Definition and a guide for practitioners, local leaders and decision makers working to protect children from child sexual exploitation (DfE, 2017) define CSE as:

“Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.”

Whilst we acknowledge that many teenagers prefer not to be described as children, we have accepted the view of Louise Casey, expressed following the Rotherham inquiry into CSE:

"child sexual exploitation is sexual and physical abuse, and habitual rape of children by (mainly) men who achieve this by manipulating and gaining total control over those who cannot consent to sex either by virtue of their age or their capacity. It is therefore important that professionals working in the field of CSE refer to anyone under 18 as a child so their status is never overlooked."

3. Training

The LSCB provides three levels of CSE training:

  • E-learning which is for all professionals in Cumbria working with children and young people and aims to increase general awareness of the main issues in the sexual exploitation of children and young people;
  • Half day awareness raising workshops which aim to raise all professionals' awareness of CSE and their role in identifying and addressing it;
  • Full day workshops which are for practitioners who work directly with children who have experienced Child Sexual Exploitation or Sexual Violence or are at risk of exploitation. The full day workshops aim to provide participants with the knowledge and skills to enable them to contribute to safeguarding children and young people at risk of or suffering sexual exploitation.

Click here for Information on LSCB training

It is to be noted that single agencies are responsible for ensuring they support staff in attending training.

4. Risks (Practice Guidance)

Any child or young person may be at risk of sexual exploitation, regardless of their family background or other circumstances.

Sexual exploitation results in children and young people suffering harm, and causes significant damage to their physical and mental health. It can also have profound and damaging consequences for the child’s family. Parents and carers are often traumatised and under severe stress. Siblings can feel alienated and their self-esteem can be affected. Family members can themselves suffer serious threats of abuse, intimidation and assault at the hands of perpetrators.

There are strong links between children involved in sexual exploitation and other behaviours such as running away from home or care, bullying, self-harm, teenage pregnancy, truancy and substance misuse. In addition, some children are particularly vulnerable, for example, children with special needs, those in residential or foster care, those leaving care, migrant children, unaccompanied asylum seeking children, victims of forced marriage and those involved in gangs.

There is also often a presumption that children are sexually exploited by people they do not know. However evidence shows that this is often not the case and children are often sexually exploited by people with whom they feel they have a relationship, e.g. a boyfriend / girlfriend. Children are often persuaded that the boyfriend / girlfriend is their only true form of support and encouraged to withdraw from their friends and family and to place their trust only within the relationship.

Many children are groomed into sexually exploitative relationships but other forms of entry exist. Some children are engaged in informal economies that incorporate the exchange of sex for rewards such as drugs, alcohol, money or gifts. Others exchange sex for accommodation or money as a result of homelessness and experiences of poverty. Some children have been bullied, coerced and threatened into sexual activities by peers or gang members, which is then used against them as a form of extortion and to keep them compliant.

Due to the nature of the grooming methods used by their abusers, it is very common for children who are sexually exploited not to recognise that they are being abused. Practitioners should be aware that particularly children aged 16 and 17 may believe themselves to be acting voluntarily and will need practitioners to work with them so they can recognise that they are being sexually exploited.

This is not an issue, which affects only girls, but boys are also exploited. However, they often may experience other barriers to disclosure. The Barnardos ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’ study indicated that boys are less likely to be identified as victims of exploitation, although by the time they are, they may present with particularly high risks and vulnerabilities compared with girls. The study also found in line with gender stereotypes and wider societal perceptions, professionals’ attitudes towards boys and young men can be less protective than towards girls. Professionals working with sexually exploited boys and young men found that they are more likely to express their anger and trauma externally and be labelled as ‘aggressive’, ‘violent’, or an ‘offender’, whereas girls are more likely to internalise their distress. Professionals noted that while boys of any sexual orientation are at risk of sexual exploitation, there may be specific risks and impacts that relate to gay, bisexual and trans (GBT) young men. The research identified some prominent routes by which males are perceived by professionals as becoming victims of sexual exploitation, a factor that was seen as enabling the sexual exploitation of boys was technology, including the use of: gaming sites to build relationships and groom boys; dating sites; and online access to hard-core pornography, which can normalise certain sexual activities and also enable sexualised contact.

Child Sexual Exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It can take many forms from the seemingly ‘consensual’ relationship where sex is exchanged for attention, accommodation or gifts, to serious organised crime and child trafficking. (Human trafficking is the movement of a person from one place to another into conditions of exploitation, using deception, coercion, the abuse of power or the abuse of someone’s vulnerability).

What marks out exploitation is an imbalance of power within the relationship. The perpetrator always holds some kind of power over the victim, increasing the dependence of the victim as the exploitative relationship develops.

Technology such as mobile phones or social networking sites can play a part in sexual exploitation, for example, through their use to record abuse and share it with other like-minded individuals or as a medium to access children in order to groom them.

Sexual exploitation has strong links with other forms of crime, for example, domestic violence and abuse, online and offline grooming, the distribution of abusive images of children and child trafficking.

The perpetrators of sexual exploitation are sometimes well organised and use sophisticated tactics. They are known to target areas where children gather without much adult supervision, e.g. parks, takeaway outlets or shopping centres or sites on the Internet.

Children may have already been sexually exploited before they are referred to Children’s Social Care; others may become targets of perpetrators whilst living at home or during placements. They are often the focus of perpetrators of sexual abuse due to their vulnerability. All practitioners and foster carers should therefore create an environment which educates children about Child Sexual Exploitation, involving relevant outside agencies where appropriate. They should encourage them to discuss any such concerns with them, or with someone from a specialist Child Sexual Exploitation project, and also feel able to share any such concerns about their friends.


Consent is a particular issue in relation to CSE as children who are subject to grooming are often not aware they are being exploited or abused so their ability to consent is eroded through the abuse.

This extract from The Office of the Commissioner for Children (OCC) Inquiry into CSE in Gangs and Groups (Nov 2012) helps to consider issues around consent.

"The law not only sets down 16 as the age of consent, it also applies to whether a person has given their consent to sexual activity, or was able to give their consent, or whether sexual violence and rape in particular took place. In the context of Child Sexual Exploitation, the term 'consent' refers to whether or not a child understands how one gives consent, withdraws consent and what situations (such as intoxication, duress, violence) can compromise the child or young person's ability to consent freely to sexual activity."

Practitioners must also consider other factors which might influence the ability of the person to give consent, e.g. learning disability / mental ill health. Children under the age of 16 cannot legally consent to sexual activity. Sexual intercourse with children under the age of 13 is statutory rape. A child under 18 cannot consent to their own abuse through exploitation.

5. Indicators (Practice Guidance)

Anyone who has regular contact with children is in a good position to notice changes in behaviour and physical signs that may indicate involvement in sexual exploitation.

Parents, carers and anyone in a position of responsibility with a child should also know how to monitor online activity and be prepared to - monitor computer usage where they are suspicious that a child is being groomed online.

The fact that a child is 16 or 17 years old should not be taken as a sign they are no longer at risk of sexual exploitation.

Children with a disability may have increased vulnerability as well as young people up to the age of 21 who were looked after for whom the local authority has statutory care leaver responsibility and / or where there may be child in need and/or child protection issues.

Barnardo's 'Puppet on a String' report 2011 sets out three different models of activity in the spectrum of sexual exploitation:

Abusive / 'Inappropriate' relationships

Usually involving one perpetrator who has inappropriate power or control over a child (physical emotional or financial). One indicator may be a significant age gap. The child may believe they are in a loving relationship.

'Boyfriend' model of exploitation and peer exploitation

The perpetrator befriends and grooms a child into a 'relationship' and then coerces or forces them to have sex with friends or associates.

Peer exploitation is where children are forced or coerced into sexual activity by peers and associates. Sometimes this can be associated with gang activity, but not always.

Organised / networked sexual exploitation or trafficking

Children (often connected) are passed through networks, possibly over geographical distances, between towns and cities where they may be forced / coerced into sexual activity with multiple men. Often this occurs in 'sex parties', and children who are involved may be used as agents to recruit others into the network. Some of this activity is described as serious organised crime and can involve the organised 'buying and selling' of children by perpetrators.

The key indicators of Child Sexual Exploitation include (please note this list is not exhaustive):


  • Physical symptoms (bruising suggestive of either physical or sexual assault);
  • Chronic fatigue;
  • Recurring or multiple sexually transmitted infections;
  • Pregnancy and/or seeking an abortion;
  • Evidence of drug, alcohol or other substance misuse;
  • Sexually risky behaviour.


  • Truancy/disengagement with education or considerable change in performance at school.

Emotional and Behavioural Issues

  • Volatile behaviour exhibiting extreme array of mood swings or use of abusive language;
  • Involvement in petty crime such as shoplifting, stealing;
  • Secretive behaviour;
  • Entering or leaving vehicles driven by unknown adults;
  • Reports of being seen in places known to be used for sexual exploitation, including public toilets known for cottaging or adult venues (pubs and clubs).


  • Low self-image, low self-esteem, self-harming behaviour, e.g. cutting, overdosing, eating disorder, promiscuity.


  • Hostility in relationships with staff, family members as appropriate and significant others;
  • Physical aggression;
  • Placement breakdown;
  • Reports from reliable sources (e.g. family, friends or other professionals) suggesting the likelihood of involvement in sexual exploitation;
  • Detachment from age-appropriate activities;
  • Associating with other children who are known to be sexually exploited;
  • Known to be sexually active;
  • Sexual relationship with a significantly older person, or younger person who is suspected of being abusive;
  • Unexplained relationships with older adults;
  • Possible inappropriate use of the Internet and forming relationships, particularly with adults, via the Internet;
  • Phone calls, text messages or letters from unknown adults;
  • Adults or older youths loitering outside the home;
  • Persistently missing, staying out overnight or returning late with no plausible explanation;
  • Returning after having been missing, looking well cared for in spite of having no known home base;
  • Missing for long periods, with no known home base;
  • Going missing and being found in areas where they have no known links.

Please note: Whilst the focus is often on older men as perpetrators, younger men and women may also be involved and practitioners should be aware of this possibility.

CEOP research indicates the prevalent offender profile is a white male aged 18-25.

Social Presentation

  • Change in appearance;
  • Going out dressed in clothing unusual for them (inappropriate for age, borrowing clothing from older young people).

Family and Environmental Factors

  • History of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse; neglect; domestic violence; parental difficulties.


  • Pattern of previous street homelessness;
  • Having keys to premises other than those known about.


  • Possession of large amounts of money with no plausible explanation;
  • Acquisition of expensive clothes, mobile phones or other possessions without plausible explanation;
  • Accounts of social activities with no plausible explanation of the source of necessary funding.

Other Areas to Consider

Practitioners should be aware that many children who are sexually exploited do not see themselves as victims. In such situations, discussions with them about concerns should be handled with great sensitivity. Seeking prior advice from specialist agencies may be useful. This should not involve disclosing personal, identifiable information at this stage.

In assessing whether a child is a victim of sexual exploitation, or at risk, please note the comments about consent earlier, careful consideration should be given to the issue of consent. It is important to bear in mind that:

  • A child under the age of 13 is not legally capable of consenting to sex (it is statutory rape) or any other type of sexual touching;
  • Sexual activity with a child under 16 is also an offence;
  • It is an offence for a person to have a sexual relationship with a 16 or 17 year old if they hold a position of trust or authority in relation to them;
  • Where sexual activity with a 16 or 17 year old does not result in an offence being committed, it may still result in harm, or the likelihood of harm being suffered;
  • Non-consensual sex is rape whatever the age of the victim; and
  • If the victim is incapacitated through drink or drugs, or the victim or his or her family has been subject to violence or the threat of it, they cannot be considered to have given true consent; therefore offences may have been committed;
  • Child sexual exploitation is therefore potentially a child protection issue for all children under the age of 18 years and not just those in a specific age group.

The child sexual exploitation training which practitioners receive does also include what information should be given to the Police in such cases, for example vehicle registration numbers, names, physical descriptions. It also includes what action staff should take in the case of suspected sexual or physical abuse in order to protect potential evidence, which may be useful in the case of an alleged perpetrator being prosecuted.

6. Children who go Missing (Practice Guidance)

A significant number of children who are being sexually exploited may go missing from home or care, and education. Some go missing frequently; the more often they go missing the more vulnerable they are to being sexually exploited. If a child does go missing, the Children who go Missing from Care or Home should be followed.

Independent Return Interviews with the child can help in establishing why they went missing and the subsequent support that may be required, as well as preventing repeat incidents. Information gathered from return interviews can be used to inform the identification for Referral and Assessment of any child sexual exploitation cases.

7. Issues (Practice Guidance)

Working with sexually exploited children is a complex issue which can involve serious crime and investigations over a wide geographical area.

Children may be frightened of the consequences of disclosure and may need to be given time to discuss their experiences.

The need to share information discreetly in a timely fashion has been shown to be vital in these cases.

Agencies and practitioners involved with a child experiencing child sexual exploitation must consider disruption strategies which support the child to leave the situation they find themselves in.

The prosecution and disruption of perpetrators is an essential part of the process in reducing harm. It is the responsibility of the Police to gather evidence, investigate and interview perpetrators and prepare case files for consideration by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) with the intention of obtaining the successful conviction of offenders.

Many Child Sexual Exploitation cases cross Police force boundaries and therefore there should be cross boundary cooperation and information sharing. This may involve the National Crime Agency's CEOP Command (formerly Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) who can support the Police by helping to coordinate cross-boundary or international investigations involving child sex offender networks or in the management of high risk offenders which may involve grooming through chat rooms and social networking sites or involvement with paedophile rings.

8. Identifying and Prosecuting Perpetrators (Practice Guidance)

The Police and criminal justice agencies lead on the identification and prosecution of perpetrators. All practitioners, however, have a role in gathering, recording and sharing information with the Police and other agencies, as appropriate and in agreement with them.

Practitioners and foster carers should bear in mind that sexual exploitation often does not occur in isolation and has links to other crime types, including:

  • Child trafficking (into, out of and within the UK);
  • Domestic Violence and Abuse;
  • Sexual violence in intimate relationships;
  • Grooming (both online and offline);
  • Abusive images of children and their distribution (organised abuse);
  • Organised sexual abuse of children;
  • Drugs-related offences (dealing, consuming and cultivating);
  • Gang-related activity;
  • Immigration-related offences;
  • Domestic servitude.

9. Protection and Action to be Taken (Procedure)

7.1 The following procedure is explicit to CSE and it is to be noted that the CSE Early Help element requires specific action as detailed below.

What is particular about CSE is that we would expect the CSE Screening Tool (see Appendix 2: CSE Screening Tool) and when indicators are such the Risk Assessment Tool (see Appendix 3: CSE Risk Assessment Tool), to be completed.

It is the completion of the CSE Screening Tool and associated Risk Assessment Tool that will assure practitioners whether this is a risk of CSE or if CSE is occurring.

Please be aware that the Category 1 level of risk can feature when a child is already a Child in Need, on a Child Protection Plan or a Child Looked After and not just at Early Help Level. However, Early Help response is only appropriate for Category 1 level of risk.

Any belief that a child is being exploited is a belief that they are being sexually abused.

The steps that need to be taken at any stage if there is a concern about CSE are laid out in the section below. The first step is always to complete the CSE Screening Tool (see Appendix 2: CSE Screening Tool) to help identify the risk.

Protective action will take place in one of the following three scenarios:

  1. Child is not on an Early Help Assessment, CiN, CP or CLA Plan;
  2. Child is currently on an Early Help Assessment;
  3. Child is a Child in Need, on a Child Protection Plan or a Child Looked After;
  4. Child not on an EHA, CiN, CP or CLA plan and is open to Youth Offending Service.

This highlights the fundamental grey area as to whether everything with a CSE risk is referred into the Hub. What is written currently in this version assumes that it will be.

Where a child is under 13 then this should automatically be viewed as a matter for Children’s Services statutory assessment.

Please see Appendix 1.1: CSE Flowchart Child not on EHA CiN CP or CLA Plan, Appendix 1.2: CSE Flowchart Child has EHA in Place, Appendix 1.3: CSE Flowchart Referral to District or Child Already on a SW Plan and Appendix 1.4: CSE Flowchart Child not on an EHA, CiN, CP or CLA plan and is open to Youth Offending Service for scenarios 1, 2, 3 and 4.

As with any other safeguarding matter if it is an emergency you should contact the Police if it is urgent then a referral to Children's Social Care should be made in line with Reporting Concerns – Professional procedure.

10. Supporting Children out of Child Sexual Exploitation (Procedure)

Practitioners from statutory agencies and voluntary sector organisations together with the child, foster carers, and his / her family as appropriate, should agree on the services, which should be provided to them and how they will be coordinated. The types of intervention offered should be appropriate to their needs and should take full account of identified risk factors and their individual circumstances. This may include, for example, previous abuse, missing incidents, involvement in gangs and groups and/or child trafficking. Health services provided may include sexual health services and mental health services. Advice should be sought from the nearest specialist service, which works with children involved in child sexual exploitation. A referral should be made as appropriate, if the child is in agreement.

For children who are Looked After issues raised and actions planned should be incorporated into the child’s Care Plan and Placement Plan, and reviewed as part of the Looked After Child Review.

Because the effects of Child Sexual Exploitation can last well into adulthood, support may be required over a long period of time. In such circumstances, effective links should be made between children and adult services and statutory and voluntary organisations. For children who are Looked After, this should be incorporated into their Pathway Plan. A clear plan should be put into place prior to the child’s 18th birthday and this should be shared at the CSE Oversight group so we are confident there is robust plans in place to manage ongoing exploitation risk.

11. Children Placed in Cumbria by other Local Authorities (Procedure)

When a child is placed into Cumbria by another local authority the provider with which the child is placed must notify the Cumbria Police CSE/Missing from Home coordinator at the Cumbria Safeguarding Hub,, or their local SPOC if the child is identified as being at risk of CSE or going missing.

12. Supporting Children and Young People through Related Legal Proceedings (Procedure)

Where alleged perpetrators are arrested and charged with offences against children, allocated practitioners and foster carers should ensure they are supported throughout the prosecution process and beyond. Specialist agencies should be involved in supporting the child, as required. This may include using special measures to protect them when giving evidence in court for example. Independent Sexual Violence Advisers or specialist voluntary sector services, if available, may also have an important role to play.


Appendix 1.1: CSE Flowchart Child not on EHA CiN CP or CLA Plan

Appendix 1.2: CSE Flowchart Child has EHA in Place

Appendix 1.3: CSE Flowchart Referral to District or Child Already on a SW Plan

Appendix 1.4: CSE Flowchart Child not on an EHA, CiN, CP or CLA plan and is open to Youth Offending Service

Appendix 2: CSE Screening Tool

Appendix 3: CSE Risk Assessment Tool

Appendix 4: CSE Risk Indicators Guidance Sheet for Practitioners

Appendix 5: Cumbria Categories of CSE

Appendix 6: CSE Multi-Agency Safety Plan

Appendix 7: Disruption Tool

Appendix 8: Joint CSE High Level Case Concern Toolkit

Further Information

Amendments to this Chapter

The Further Information section was revised and updated in February 2018 with a link to the Centre of expertise on Child Sexual Abuse – Key messages from research on child sexual exploitation. A further link was added to Child sexual exploitation: Practice Tool (2017) (open access) - further background information about child sexual exploitation and additional commentary around some of the complexities of practically responding to the issue.