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Child sexual exploitation

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Spot the signs that a child is being sexually exploited

What is child sexual exploitation?

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a form of child abuse where children and young people are forced or manipulated into sexual activity.

The abuser may groom the young person into trusting them – this can be done face-to-face or online – and they then exploit this trust for their own gain. Child sexual exploitation can take many forms and victims and perpetrators can be from any social or ethnic background.

Sometimes offenders may get the young person to engage in sexual activity by giving them attention, treats, alcohol, drugs or a place to stay. Sometimes they may manipulate the young person into believing they are in a consensual relationship and that they love them.

Either way, the young person is being taken advantage of through this controlling behaviour; it is child abuse and the victims face huge risks to their physical, emotional and psychological health. 

Nottinghamshire Police is committed to preventing child sexual abuse, helping victims and bringing offenders to justice.

Sexual offences against children are some of the most serious that the Force has to tackle. The effects of sexual exploitation on victims can be long-term and last long into adulthood. 

This type of abuse could happen to any young person from any background. It happens to boys and young men as well as girls and young women. The victims of abuse are not at fault. Abusers are very clever in the way they manipulate and take advantage of the young people they abuse.

Spot the signs

Some children are more at risk then others; it is the responsibility of everyone to spot the signs that a child may be vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

  • Is the young person regularly missing from home or care?
  • Do they have physical injuries?
  • Are they taking drugs or misusing alcohol?
  • Are they withdrawn from their family?
  • Have they had repeated sexually transmitted infections or pregnancies?
  • Are they regularly absent from school?
  • Are they regularly offending?
  • Have they received gifts from unknown sources?
  • Are they self harming?
  • Is there evidence of sexual bullying?
  • Are they experiencing mental health problems?
  • Have they attempted suicide?
  • Is there evidence of online abuse through the internet and social networking sites?
  • Are they trying to coax friends into exploitative situations?

What can I do as a parent or carer?

As a parent or carer, it is important to discuss with children the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships to help them understand the potential risks.

Children and young people may find it difficult to recognise that they are being exploited. The person abusing them could come from any gender, race or culture.

There are a number of practical steps you can take to protect children such as:

  • Making sure you understand the risks associated with your child being online
    and putting measures in place to minimise these risks.
  • Being cautious of older friends your child may have, or relationships with other young people where they appear to have control over your child.
  • Being aware of new, unexplained gifts or possessions and carefully monitoring any instances of staying out late or not returning home.
  • Staying alert to changes in behaviour or any physical signs of abuse such as bruising.

How is the grooming of children different online?

In many circumstances, grooming online is faster and anonymous and results in children trusting an online ‘friend’ more quickly than someone they had just met ‘face to face’.

Those intent on sexually harming children can easily access information about them and they are able to hide their true identity, age and gender. People who groom children may not be restricted by time or accessibility to a child as they would be in the ‘real world’. 

Keeping safe online

In many circumstances, grooming online is faster and anonymous and results in children trusting an online ‘friend’ more quickly than someone they had just met ‘face to face’.

Those intent on sexually harming children can easily access information about them and they are able to hide their true identity, age and gender.

People who groom children may not be restricted by time or accessibility to a child as they would be in the ‘real world’.

Teach your children the five key Childnet 'SMART' rules which remind young people to be 'SMART' online. You should go through these tips with
your children.

  •  S – SAFE Keep safe by being careful not to give out personal information – such as your name, email, phone number, home address, or school name – to people who you don’t know online.
  • M – MEETING Meeting someone you have only been in touch with online can be dangerous. Only do so with your parents’/carers’ permissions & when they can be present.
  • A – ACCEPTING Accepting e-mails, IM messages or opening files from people you don’t know or trust can be dangerous – they may contain viruses or nasty messages.
  • R – RELIABLE Someone online may be lying about who they are, and information you find on the internet may not be reliable.
  • T – TELL Your parent, carer or a trusted adult if someone or something makes you feel uncomfortable or worried.

What can I do as a teacher?

As a professional working with young people, you may have opportunities to identify issues early so it is important to familiarise yourself with the signs that a young person is being exploited and to share this information with
your colleagues or professionals in other agencies.

Other steps you can take to help protect young people include:

  • Staying alert to changes in behaviour and investigate these further
  • Ensuring you know who the child protection lead is in your workplace and that you are aware of the procedure to follow if you have concerns about a young
  • Thinking about the ways that you might be able to better support and help young people to share information if they are worried about their own or a friend’s situation.
  • Indentifying opportunities to educate young people about healthy relationships and about sexual exploitation.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) runs an online training programme for professionals.

Advice for young people

Sexual exploitation can be hard to recognise because you often believe you're in a good relationship with the person - or people.

The relationship could be with close friends, a boyfriend or girlfriend -and maybe groups of friends from school or the area you live in. It could be a person or a new group of people you've only just got to know. It could be someone you've talked to online.

These older adults are nice to you - they show you a lot of interest and affection in the beginning - they make you feel special. Sometimes they ask groups of young people to come back to their house with older people.

As we grow up, we develop relationships with lots of different people. We all have to learn to enjoy healthy relationships, and that's a great skill to have.

But things can go wrong along the way, and people might try to take advantage of you, forcing you into dangerous situations before you know it.

Warning signs

  • They offer you drugs and alcohol- a place to chill out or involve you in activities that seem exciting or fun. They may even buy you presents like clothes, a mobile phone, or give you money to buy things.
  • When they have gained your trust and affection, they may change how they act around you.  Their aim is to draw young people like you into swapping or selling sex. They are not really your friends.
  • That person may start to try to find ways of controlling you, such as making promises they can't keep, threatening you, or even becoming violent if you don't do what they want.
  • They might also try and seperate you from your friends, family and other people who care for you. When that happens, it's easier for an abuser to put you in dangerous situations or force you to do things you don't want to do with them or other people they know.
  • They will ask for sexual favours for themselves and/or other people, in
    return for alcohol, drugs, presents, money; all the things they gave you free a while ago.

Three top tips to keep safe

  1. Trust yourself to know when something is wrong. If someone makes you feel
    unsafe, pressured, trapped or frightened, follow your instincts straight away.
  2. Don't trust people you don't know, even if they seem friendly - and make sure you know who you are talking to online. Never give away personal details or agree to meet someone who you have only talked to online.
  3. Don't be tricked into doing things that are unsafe, even if they seem like fun. What might look exciting at first could be more harmful than you realise.

Talk to someone you can trust

It's not always easy to talk about this, but it is important that you do.

Sexual exploitation can happen to you, no matter whether you are a boy or a girl, and no matter what your age or background - so you need to be careful who you trust.

How can I report it?

Anyone with concerns about child sexual exploitation should contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111, or call police on 101. Always call 999 in an emergency.

Useful links

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101 is the number to call when you need to contact Nottinghamshire Police and it’s less urgent than a 999 call. Calls are free, no matter how long the call lasts.

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999 is the number to call when you want to contact us in an emergency and an immediate police response is necessary.

999 is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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CEOP helps children stay safe online. 

Has someone acted inappropriately towards you online, or to a child or young person you know? 

It may be sexual chat, being asked to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable or someone being insistent on meeting up. 

You can report it to CEOP.

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Crimestoppers is not the police - it's an independent charity helping to find criminals and solve crimes.

Give information anonymously on 0800 555 111.