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Child sexual exploitation (CSE)

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a type of sexual abuse were children or young people are exploited, manipulated or forced into taking part in sexual activities. Often this can be in exchange for attention, affection, money, drugs, alcohol or gifts.

Gangs also use child sexual exploitation to exert power and control, to initiate potential members or as a weapon.

With the internet and mobile phones, child sexual exploitation can happen anywhere so it's vital you know what to look out for and what to do next.

What to look out for

It's not always easy to spot the signs of child sexual exploitation because some behaviours can be confused as 'normal' for a particular child or the child's age.

If someone is being exploited, look out for:

  • unhealthy or inappropriate sexual behaviour
  • being frightened of some people, places or situations
  • being secretive
  • sharp changes in mood or character
  • having money or things they can't or won't explain
  • physical signs of abuse, like bruises or bleeding in their genital or anal area
  • alcohol or drug misuse
  • sexually transmitted infections
  • pregnancy

Changes you may notice:

  • having an older boyfriend or girlfriend
  • staying out late or overnight
  • having a new group of friends
  • missing from home or care, or stopping going to school or college
  • hanging out with older people, other vulnerable people or in antisocial groups
  • involved in a gang
  • involved in criminal activities like selling drugs or shoplifting

Any one of these signs doesn't necessarily mean that a young person is being sexually abused, but the presence of several suggests that you should begin to ask questions and consider seeking help. Keep in mind that some of these signs can emerge at other times of stress.

Terminology specific for exploitation online and through gaming

  • Skins – These are avatars that come with most games. Changing your ‘skin’ usually requires a financial cost and certain skins are more desirable/cost more.
  • Nube – This refers to the ‘skin’ that comes with you joining the game. Nube refers to ‘newbie’ in the game. Nube often has negative connotations and most young people will want to buy a new skin quickly to avoid being referred to as a Nube. Nube’s are known to be targeted for exploitation online as they will be encouraged to do things in exchange for gaming credits/gift cards.
  • Crypto-Currency – A digital currency
  • Loot Boxes – These are often earnt/bought in gaming apps. They are similar to a scratch card in that you do not know what the prize may be. These can be gifted by exploiters via the game.
  • Open Web – This is the part of the web where there is no need for any passwords/encryption
  • Deep Web – Part of the web where there is a level of encryption (often via a password). Examples would be online banking, making purchases online, email accounts.
  • Dark Web – It is not illegal to access the dark web, or to download anonymity software. YouTube video’s readily show how to access. Therefore, we need to focus more on the purpose of why children/young people may be accessing, as opposed to if they are.

The effects of CSE

Children and young people can believe that they're in a loving and consensual relationship with the individual. This is known as grooming. This means they could be unaware or reject the fact they're being abused.

Child sexual exploitation can have lots of effects and risks including:

  • sexual images and videos being taken and shared which could be used to blackmail them
  • physical harm, sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy
  • mental health problems
  • addiction to smoking, alcohol and drugs
  • taking part in criminal behaviour or gangs
  • being separated from family and friends
  • suicide attempts

Visit the NSPCC website to understand more about the effects of child sexual exploitation.

Talking to your child

If you need to talk to your child, take a look at the NSPCC's advice on how to start the conversations about 'difficult' subjects.

This advice can help you approach difficult or life-changing topics like child sexual exploitation, suicidal thoughts, illness and separation.

Report a concern or get advice

If you have immediate concerns about the safety of a child always call 999.

If you think child sexual exploitation (CSE) or another crime is going on call 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111

If you'd like to get more advice or take through something on your mind first, you can speak to an NSPCC counsellor on 0808 800 5000 or by emailing [email protected].

Support organisations

Parents Against Child Exploitation (PACE)

Parents Against Child Exploitation (PACE) is a leading specialist charity supporting parents and carers whose children are being exploited by offenders outside of the family.


Thinkuknow is the education programme from NCA-CEOP, a UK organisation which protects children both online and offline.


Childline is a free private and confidential service to help anyone under 19 in the UK with any issue they’re going through.

The Children's Society

The Children's Society is a national charity working to transform the hopes and happiness of young people facing abuse, exploitation and neglect.