Child sexual exploitation

Bracknell Forest, like most other areas of the UK, is faced with the challenge of tackling the issue of children being abused through child sexual exploitation.  A strategy and action plan has been produced which sets out how we coordinate services across all agencies to respond effectively to the local issue.


Children involved in any form of sexual exploitation should be treated primarily as the victims of abuse and their needs carefully assessed; the aim should be to protect them from further harm and they should not be treated as criminals.


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 can cause significant damage to their physical and mental health. It can also have profound and damaging consequences for the child’s family. Parents, carers and siblings are often traumatised by the effect on the victim.


There are strong links between children involved in sexual exploitation and other behaviours such as going missing 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, and those involved in groups and/or gangs.


Official definition of child sexual exploitation

                    Sexual exploitation of children and young people under 18 involves exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where young people (or a third person or persons) receive 'something' (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of them performing, and/or another or others performing on them, sexual activities. Child sexual exploitation can occur through the use of technology without the child's immediate recognition; for example being persuaded to post sexual images on the Internet/mobile phones without immediate payment or gain. In all cases, those exploiting the child/young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources. Violence, coercion and intimidation are common, involvement in exploitative relationships being characterised in the main by the child or young person's limited availability of choice resulting from their social/economic and/or emotional vulnerability.               

This definition of child sexual exploitation was created by the UK National Working Group for Sexually Exploited Children and Young People (NWG) and is used in statutory guidance for England. Signs of risk and vulnerability


The following factors that may be associated with child sexual exploitation do not provide an exhaustive list of key issues and must be considered in the context of the child/young persons, individual circumstances.


Experience has shown that commonly the following vulnerabilities may be present in children prior to child sexual exploitation taking place:

 •Living in a chaotic or dysfunctional household (including parental substance use, domestic violence, parental mental health issues, and parental criminality)

 •History of abuse (including familial child sexual abuse, risk of forced marriage, risk of honour based violence, physical and emotional abuse and neglect)

 •Recent bereavement or loss

 •Gang association either through relatives, peers or intimate relationships (in cases of gang associated child sexual exploitation only)

 •Attending school with young people who are sexually exploited

 •Learning disabilities

 •Unsure about their sexual orientation or unable to disclose sexual orientation to their families

 •Friends with young people who are sexually exploited


 •Lacking friends from the same age group

 •Living in a gang neighbourhood

 •Living in residential care

 •Living in inadequate accommodation

 •Low self-esteem or self-confidence

 •Young carers


The following signs and behaviour are generally seen in children who are already being sexually exploited:

 •Missing from home or care

 •Physical injuries

 •Drug or alcohol misuse


 •Repeat sexually-transmitted infections, pregnancy and terminations.

 •Absence from school

 •Change in physical appearance

 •Evidence of sexual bullying and/or vulnerability through the internet and/or social networking sites

 •Estranged from their family

 •Receipt of gifts from unknown sources

 •Recruiting others into exploitative situations

 •Poor mental health


 •Thoughts of or attempted suicide.


Evidence shows that any child displaying several vulnerabilities from the above lists should be considered to be at high risk of sexual exploitation.


However, it is important to note that children without pre-existing vulnerabilities can still be sexually exploited.


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