A Parent’s Guide To: Sexual Exploitation

Child sexual exploitation (often abbreviated to CSE) isn’t something any parent wants to think about. Sometimes the signs can go unnoticed. If you do think something might be happening, you might not know how to help protect your child.

Spotting the signs

Sexual abuse happens when a young person is forced or persuaded to take part in sexual activities. Whether or not violence is involved, or if the child agrees and knows what is happening, this is still abuse. The age of consent is 16 in the UK, so it’s impossible for anyone under this age to legally be involved in a sexual relationship. CSE is a form of abuse which involves manipulation of young people into sexual activity in exchange for money, gifts or affection.

Sona and mother embraced

Usually it will follow a ‘grooming’ process, which starts with befriending the child and gaining their trust. It can be a long time before any actual abuse starts, meaning that the child fully believes that this person is on their side. The victim might believe the relationship to be consensual but due to their age this cannot be the case.

Not all forms of CSE are physical. Other forms may involve showing a child pornography or forcing them to watch sexual acts. It is also illegal for sexual image to be produced of anyone under the age of 18 – even if it’s a photo the individual has taken themselves. It might be the work of a single older individual, or peers, or a gang.

Children of all ages can potentially be abused. The very young, or those with a disability are more vulnerable because they are particularly dependent, and they might be less aware of what is happening, or unable to communicate.

While it is difficult to generalise, and even harder to be sure, there are some signs which might suggest an issue (although this might not be CSE).

  • Is their behaviour age appropriate?

  • Are they having sleeping problems?

  • Has their personality changed? Have they become withdrawn, insecure or clingy?

  • Have they changed their eating habits?

A combination of these, along with other changes might suggest there is something wrong, and that you should seek more help.

If you see any physical signs such as soreness or bruising around the child’s genitals, or symptoms of sexually transmitted infections, you should seek immediate medical advice.

There’s no easy way to spot someone who might be abusing a child, and knowing the difference between a close and an inappropriate one – you might be being manipulated as well.

Be aware if:

  • The individual takes interest in the sexual development of your child

  • Interacts physically with the child in a way which makes them seem uncomfortable

  • They spend more time with your child than with others their age

  • Treats your child as a ‘favourite’, showering them with gifts for no reason.

Of course, some of these signs might not be a problem, but in combination they could be a problem.

Speaking to your child about CSE

Many children who have been abused do not tell anyone about it, and can keep the secret for their entire lives. They might not know how to tell you, or they might be afraid or embarrassed to speak out.

If your child does bring up abuse, your reaction is important. The individual might be someone very close to your family, and it is likely to be quite shocking. It’s taken a lot of courage to bring up what has happened, so make sure you believe your child, and support them. They have come to you for support and help, so even if you find it difficult to believe, try not to let that show.

They have done the right thing by speaking out, and now it’s important that you do as well.

You shouldn’t confront the abuser. This will give them a chance to conceal evidence and could put you or your child in danger. Instead, seek professional advice. By reporting the crime you will be able to stop the abuser and your actions can also help protect other children who might be at risk. Visit www.jigsawprogramme.org for more information about education for parents and young people and www.rosecampaign.org for more information about CSE.

Remember you can get in touch with us via our chat facility, which you’ll find at the bottom right corner of each page on this site. We also have a freephone number which you can use to speak to a trained advisor, on 0808 800 1037.