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1.4.10 Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation


This chapter should be read in conjunction with the Newcastle Safeguarding Children Board Procedures Manual, Safeguarding Children and Young People from Child Sexual Exploitation Procedure and related procedures in this manual.


In March 2019, the Related Information and Guidance section was updated.


  1. What is Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)?
  2. Indicators of Possible Sexual Exploitation
  3. Children and Young People who go Missing
  4. What needs to happen if there is a Concern that a Child may be at Risk of CSE
  5. Sexual Exploitation Measurement Tool
  6. Referring Cases of Concern
  7. Disruption Measures
  8. Supporting Children and Young People out of Child Sexual Exploitation
  9. Identifying and Prosecuting Perpetrators
  10. Supporting Children and Young People through Related Legal Proceedings
  11. Related Information and Guidance

    Appendix 1: Children at Risk of Sexual Exploitation Flowchart

1. What is Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)?

The sexual exploitation of children is defined 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. See Working Together to Safeguard Children.

See also: Child sexual exploitation: definition and guide for practitioners (DfE 2017). This advice is non-statutory, and has been produced to help practitioners to identify child sexual exploitation and take appropriate action in response. This advice includes the management, disruption and prosecution of perpetrators.

CSE is a form of Sexual Abuse that can have a serious impact on every aspect of a child's life.

CSE covers a spectrum of situations including seemingly 'consensual' relationships where sex is exchanged for attention/accommodation/food, drugs/gifts, or it can involve serious organised crime and child trafficking across counties, towns or villages for the purpose of sexual activity.

What marks out exploitation is an imbalance of power in a relationship, coercion, intimidation, bullying or grooming for sexual activity. Technology can be used to groom or record the abuse and share this with others.

Child sexual exploitation can be contact or non-contact child sexual abuse when there is any actual or attempted abuse of a child's vulnerability or trust.

Any child or young person may be at risk of CSE regardless of their family background or circumstances.

Children at risk of CSE may have a number of vulnerabilities or risk indicators such as low self-esteem and poor self-image, self-harm, missing from home or care, bullying, substance misuse.

Some children are particularly vulnerable such as children with learning difficulties; children looked after, care leavers, migrant children and unaccompanied asylum seeking children.

Children are at risk of CSE from both people they do and do not know. Most sexual exploitation occurs within inappropriate intimate partner relationships, and these can be in-person or online. Due to the nature of grooming methods used by perpetrators, it is common for the child or young person not to recognise that they are being abused. Some recognised models of child sexual exploitation are:

  • Inappropriate relationships: usually involving a sole perpetrator who has inappropriate power or control over a child (physical, emotional, financial) and uses this to sexually exploit them;
  • Boyfriend model: 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 and indirect peer: Peer exploitation usually involves the perpetrator (who is often known to the victim) using coercion/manipulation/blackmail to force the victim into participating in some form of sexual activity (in person or online). Indirect peer exploitation involves other young people engaging peers in exploitation but not initiating the abuse, it can involve a young person being manipulated/coerced by peers or associates to engage in sexual activity with one or several peers present at the time and often there is little no pretence of a special or intimate relationship with any of the perpetrators;
  • Party lifestyle: Involves children being befriended by the perpetrators (in person or online) or through other young people. Young people are encouraged/manipulated to attend 'parties' at flats, houses or hotels, where alcohol and drugs are frequently available and at which there are often unknown guests, children are often coerced to have sex with multiple others;
  • Organised/networked sexual exploitation: Perpetrator networks and or groups force children (who are often connected via friendship groups) into sexual activity with others. Some children who are involved may be used as 'recruiters' of other children.

2. Indicators of Possible Sexual Exploitation

Staff and foster carers should receive training on child sexual exploitation, and therefore be aware of the key indicators of child sexual exploitation. They include:


  • 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 young people 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 staff should be aware of this possibility.

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 and abuse; 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.

This list is not exhaustive.

Staff and foster carers should be aware that many children and young people 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 or young person is a victim of sexual exploitation, or at risk, 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 staff and foster carers receive should also include what information should be given to the police in such cases, for example vehicle registration numbers, names, physical descriptions. It may also include 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.

3. Children and Young People who go Missing

A significant number of children and young people who are being sexually exploited may go missing from home or care, and education. Some go missing frequently. If a child does go missing, the Children Missing from Home or Care Procedure should be followed.

Return interviews with the child or young person 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, referral and assessment of any child sexual exploitation cases.

4. What needs to happen if there is a Concern that a Child may be at Risk of CSE

The child's specific needs with regard to the risk of child sexual exploitation must be acted on immediately and specifically. See Appendix 1: Children at Risk of Sexual Exploitation Flowchart.

The Initial Response Service (IRS) provides the initial opportunity to identify if a child is at risk of CSE when a request for service is received and once a contact record is created.

If the child already has an open case, any information received by IRS is provided straight to the allocated Social Worker.

The MASH should inform the CSE Social Worker of a CSE referral within 24 hours by email.

If the child is not currently open as a case to Children's Social Care (CSC) the referral is passed to the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) and a strategy discussion/meeting/Section 47 undertaken and a Children and Family Assessment should then be undertaken.

Alongside the Child and Family Assessment, the Sexual Exploitation Measurement Tool should be completed in each case where a concern regarding Child Sexual exploitation has been raised. The level of risk must be identified via the completion of the Sexual Exploitation Measurement Tool and a classification added to Care First.

Following this, the Social Worker and Team Manager will decide on the category of risk and immediacy of the safeguarding concern.

On completion of the Sexual Exploitation Measurement Tool this should be emailed to IRS ADMIN for the attention of the CSE Social Worker at the Sexual Exploitation Hub.

If the level of risk is deemed to be medium or high, there must be a referral to the Risk Management Group.

The CSE Social Worker must be kept informed from the initial concern and then at each decision point and invited to any strategy meetings. The CSE Social Worker should receive all Risk Measurement/Assessment Tools, ensure interagency strategic work is coordinated, share information and liaise with the Police in the Hub.

5. Sexual Exploitation Measurement Tool

Having a single way of defining when an individual (child, young person or adult) is at 'high', 'medium' or 'low' risk of sexual exploitation (SE) will develop a better perspective on the prevalence and nature of SE and to provide a more consistent and appropriate service to the people at risk of, or experiencing, SE. If used consistently it is hoped this 'measurement of risk' tool will allow social workers to measure whether the risk to a person is increasing or decreasing and so put effective measures in place to try to manage this. A 'lower' risk score does NOT mean that no action needs to be taken as the earlier the intervention the better the chances of stopping the person slipping further into sexual exploitation or even preventing it from occurring.

Who completes it and when?

This is NOT a screening tool. This SE Measurement Tool is designed to measure the level of risk of SE once some indicators have already been spotted. It should be carried out on ALL children, young people or adults who have been referred to Adult or Children's Social Care and are showing indicators of SE. It is recommended that it is carried out by the allocated Social Worker. Its completion should be led by a Social Worker -- in consultation with partners, to ensure all relevant information is shared, and in discussion with the individual themselves so their wishes, their level of understanding and their willingness to engage is considered. When a person is hard to engage, the person with the best relationship with them should lead the work with oversight from the social worker. Remember, those individuals who are sexually exploited are victims of abuse even if they don't see it as such.

The Sexual Exploitation Measurement Tool should be emailed to the CSE Social Worker within 24 hours of completion.

All of those who are assessed as medium or low risk must be referred to the Risk Management Group (RMG).

The tool should be repeated whenever incidents occur which could change the level of risk to the person. It should also be repeated as a matter of course for high risk every 4 weeks and for medium and low risk every 3 months. All completed versions need to be kept and NOT overwritten so that the risk to the person can be monitored over time. Social workers must show they have reduced the risk to an individual as part of their exit strategy.

The use of this tool should not replace professional judgement. Please seek further advice/support from social care staff within Project Sanctuary if you are unsure about levels of risk or what action should be taken. The completion of this tool in isolation will not manage the risks or keep the young person/child/adult safe.

Data Monitoring

This Measurement Tool should assist you and your colleagues to consistently measure and monitor the risk to an individual and help you to take appropriate action. Completing the Data Monitoring Tool on the back page also helps to compile data on the nature of SE, spot trends as they emerge and have a more reliable indication of the prevalence of SE in Newcastle as well as an idea of the type of people who may be most at risk. This information is reported (anonymously) into the Missing, Sexually Exploited, Trafficked (MSET) sub group of the NSAB and NSCB. This information helps to inform the local profile of SE in Newcastle which will enable us to tackle it more effectively.

The tool has been developed from local experience and from the Phoenix Project Tool (Greater Manchester).

6. Referring Cases of Concern

Where a member of staff or foster carer is concerned that a child or young person is involved in, or at risk of, sexual exploitation, they should contact the allocated social worker, or in their absence the social work team manager at the earliest opportunity. If neither can be contacted or no response is received, they should contact the Initial Response Service, children’s social care. Staff or foster carers should also contact the police, if they are concerned a crime has been, or may be, committed.

If, following assessment, the social worker and their manager decide action needs to be taken to protect the child, local safeguarding procedures will be triggered. This may include notifying the police regarding possible criminal offences.

Foster carers should also contact their social worker/fostering agency at the earliest opportunity, or for advice if they first want to discuss their concerns.

If the child or young person is not deemed to be in need, the social worker should consider onward referral to relevant agencies. This should include liaison with the member of staff or foster carer who made the referral.

7. Disruption Measures

See DfE CSE 2017 Guidance Annex B – Guide to Disruption Order and Legislation.

8. Supporting Children and Young People out of Child Sexual Exploitation

Staff from statutory agencies and voluntary sector organisations together with the child or young person, 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 and young people involved in child sexual exploitation. A referral should be made as appropriate, if the child or young person is in agreement.

Issues raised and action planned should be incorporated into the child’s Care Plan, Child Protection Plan or Child in Need Plan and reviewed as part of the Looked After Child Review, Child Protection Conference or as part of Child in Need Reviews.

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. This should be incorporated into the child or young person’s Pathway Plan

9. Identifying and Prosecuting Perpetrators

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.

Staff 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.

10. Supporting Children and Young People through Related Legal Proceedings

Where alleged perpetrators are arrested and charged with offences against children or young people, allocated staff and foster carers should ensure they are supported throughout the prosecution process and beyond. Specialist agencies should be involved in supporting the child or young person, 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.

11. Related Information and Guidance

Newcastle Multi-agency Sexual Exploitation Strategy 2015 -18.

Child sexual exploitation - Definition and a guide for practitioners, local leaders and decision makers working to protect children from child sexual exploitation (Department for Education, 2017).

Appendix 1: Children at Risk of Sexual Exploitation Flowchart

Click here to view Appendix 1: Children at Risk of Sexual Exploitation Flowchart.