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2.5 Safeguarding Children and Young People from Child Sexual Exploitation


For further information please see:

See also:

Caught in a Trap (NSPCC, 2013)

Unheard Voices: The Sexual Exploitation of Asian Girls and Young Women (Muslim Women’s Network, September 2013)


Children and Families who go Missing Procedure

Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland (LLR) LSCBs Child Sexual Exploitation, Trafficking and Missing Strategy


Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation Action Plan, Department for Education

Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) For the 21st Century

Sex and Relationships Education Guidance (July 2000)

Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual exploitation: Practice Tool (2017) (open access) - further background information about child sexual exploitation and additional commentary around some of the complexities of practically responding to the issue.


In March 2018 a link to the Centre of expertise on Child Sexual Abuse – Key messages from research on child sexual exploitation. A further link was added to Child sexual exploitation: Practice Tool (2017) (open access) - further background information about child sexual exploitation and additional commentary around some of the complexities of practically responding to the issue.


  1. Introduction
  2. Key Aims of this Procedure
  3. Definitions
  4. Other Key Factors
  5. Procedure for Practitioners who have Concerns about a Child or Young Person
  6. Handling Individual Cases
  7. Immediate Protection
  8. Assessment
  9. Police Action Against Alleged Perpetrators

    Appendix 1: Indicators of Possible Sexual Exploitation

1. Introduction

The sexual exploitation of children and young people has been identified throughout the UK, in both rural and urban areas, and in all parts of the world. It affects boys and young men, as well as girls and young women. It can have a serious long-term impact on every aspect of their lives, health and education. It damages the lives of their families and carers, and can lead to family break-ups. Sexual exploitation of children and young people is completely unacceptable.

Children and young people who are sexually exploited, or at risk of sexual exploitation, are the victims of sexual abuse and should be safeguarded from further harm. Sexually exploited children and young people should not be regarded as criminals and the primary law enforcement focus should be aimed at the perpetrators of such crimes.

2. Key Aims of this Procedure

The main purpose of this procedure is to enable all agencies to work together to Safeguard and Promote the Welfare of children and young people abused through (or at risk) of sexual exploitation and/or trafficking (for further information please see Children from Abroad, including Victims of Modern Slavery, Trafficking and Exploitation Procedure.

Staff in all agencies must be able to:

  • Recognise when children and young people are at risk of being exploited and/or trafficked;
  • Prevent children and young people from being subject to sexual exploitation through training/awareness raising and early intervention education measures;
  • Recognise that sexual exploitation can happen to boys and young men, as well as girls and young women, and that females can be involved as perpetrators as well as males;
  • Provide children and young people with opportunities to exit safely;
  • Investigate and prosecute those who coerce, exploit and abuse children and young people through sexual exploitation and/or trafficking;
  • Share information with the Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Centre (MSHTC) in order to develop national data collection and targeted response where appropriate;
  • Agencies with statutory child protection duties must consider at all stages the need for urgent action that may be necessary to secure the child / young person's safety.

3. Definitions

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.
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.

4. Other Key Factors

Key issues for consideration when working with children or young people at risk of sexual exploitation:

  • The child /young person should be kept at the centre of the work and intervention and it may be necessary to manage what seems like unacceptable risk. They should be part of decision-making and their views/wishes sought;
  • Children and young people involved in sexual exploitation should be treated primarily as the victims of abuse and their needs carefully assessed. This is relevant to both child victims of sexual exploitation and children who are seen as the 'coercers';
  • Children subject to sexual exploitation and/or trafficking should be regarded as a Child in Need and assessed in accordance with the Assessment Framework;
  • Parents play the most important role in safeguarding. While professionals will need to assess the situation and how best to safeguard, it is only in the most exceptional cases that there be compulsory intervention in family life. Such intervention - provided this is consistent with the safety and welfare of the child - should support families in making their own plans for the welfare and protection of their child;
  • It is acknowledged that enquiries into sexual exploitation are particularly difficult and sensitive, especially when the child/young person does not see themselves as a victim of abuse. Such children/young people may be fearful of the Police or children's social care and may initially respond best to informal contact with health, education or voluntary sector outreach workers;
  • Although young people's sexual behaviour is primarily a matter for them (guided and informed by parents, carers and information from other resources), it is recognised that whilst they may say they have chosen to be involved in a sexual activity, they do not voluntarily enter into a situation of sexual exploitation or trafficking: they are coerced, enticed and can be utterly desperate;
  • Factors contributing to a young person's vulnerability at aged 16/17 may need to be addressed e.g. accommodation issues and requiring a safe place to stay;
  • For children and young people of any age, issues may need to be taken into consideration which increase their vulnerability, such as financial problems or, drug or alcohol misuse;
  • A young person's view that intervention is unwelcome and unnecessary should not prevent appropriate intervention to safeguard, investigate and prosecute those people who are carrying out the abuse/exploitation;
  • Professionals and volunteers involved with young people may have developed a trusting relationship with the child and be concerned that a referral to Children's Social Care will result in the child withdrawing from support services. This should not prevent a referral to Children's Social Care or the Police;
  • Asylum seeking children and young people are more vulnerable because of their experiences prior to entry of the country and because of the way in which these children enter the United Kingdom. Front end services (such as United Kingdom Border Agency and Children's Social Care) need to ensure that appropriate safeguarding measures are in place should the child / young person go missing (e.g. where appropriate take fingerprints and photos are taken for identification); ensure that young people understand the risks of exploitation and have the necessary information to exit these situations should they arise (e.g. emergency telephone numbers);
  • The primary law enforcement effort must be against the coercers/exploiters, which may be adult, but could also be the child's peers or young people who are older or be more controlling than the subject child.

5. Procedure for Practitioners who have Concerns about a Child or Young Person

If a practitioner is concerned that a child or young person is involved or likely to be involved in sexual exploitation and / or trafficking, they should immediately make a Referral to Children's Social Care or the Police CAIU. (See Referrals to Children’s Social Care Procedure). The practitioner should make the referral to the local area duty teams or the Police. (See Local Contacts)

If the child or young person has (or is awaiting allocation of) a social worker, the duty team should send the referral to the named social worker, or in their absence the team manager. Sending all sexual exploitation referrals to the duty teams enables Children's Social Care to ensure a coordinated response.

Agencies with statutory child protection duties must consider, at all stages, the need for urgent action that may be necessary to secure the child / young person's safety

Should the professionals have concerns that they would like to discuss prior to a referral, they can do so by consulting with the safeguarding lead in their own agency or directly with the key contact in Children's Social Care. All professionals are encouraged to seek advice if they are not sure there is sufficient 'evidence' or are not sure about the possible risk indicators (see Appendix 1: Indicators of Possible Sexual Exploitation).

In relation to confidentiality, where there are concerns that a child or young person is subject to sexual exploitation/trafficking, all agencies have a responsibility to report their concerns and share information. The need for a child or young person to be safeguarded overrides their right to confidentiality. Data protection should not prevent the sharing of information but ensures that relevant information is shared appropriately.

6. Handling Individual Cases

Where agencies agree that the young person is not being harmed or exploited but that there are additional needs relating to their behaviour, or there is a risk of exploitation as a result of vulnerability that can be managed, the agency should consider the best way to meet this need. For example the agency may decide to undertake an Early Help Assessment with the child / young person and his / her parents in identifying needs and support services. This may include gaining their consent to share information with other professionals to identify appropriate interventions to Safeguard and Promote the Welfare of the child / young person.

However, if a practitioner, parent or other person is concerned that a child or young person is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm, they should make an immediate referral to Children's Social Care.

Once a referral has been received from a practitioner or a parent or other person, information about that child/young person will be considered by the social care team manager who will make a decision as to whether the matter constitutes sexual exploitation.

Where there is insufficient information, Children's Social Care will make further enquiries such as:

  1. The concerns about the child/young person's behaviour and factors increasing risk such as criminal or antisocial behaviour, use of drugs/alcohol, missing from home/school; age; other areas of vulnerability such as learning difficulty, physical disability, mental health issues, other experiences of abuse / neglect; if they are a Looked After Child; or if they are a child with an immigration status. Where a child/young person is already Looked After, a Child Sexual Exploitation meeting will be convened immediately;
  2. Information held by other agencies for example the Police, health or school as well as from parents / carers, about the child, family, health, friendships and relationships, including older 'boyfriends';
  3. Information about the alleged coercer/exploiter to determine any age difference, power differentials, modus operandi (i.e. similar cases involving other children/young people and the alleged coercer/exploiter, evidence of grooming, evidence of systematic abuse, evidence of a complex crime etc).

On establishing that the concern does constitute sexual exploitation and/or trafficking, the social work team manager will arrange a strategy discussion with Leicestershire Police.

The outcome of the Strategy Discussion will be a decision as to whether the matter will be dealt with as a:

A child will be considered to be suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm if:

  1. The coercer/exploiter(s) play a significant role in the child / young person's life, hence there is significant power imbalance between them and where that power balance is part of the offender's modus operandi, i.e. grooming or extra-familial offences, or where the offender has abused their position of trust (see Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children Procedure);
  2. The parents/carers are encouraging the high risk behaviour or are involved in the sexual exploitation and/or trafficking or professionals who work with children.

7. Immediate Protection

It may become apparent that action needs be taken to safeguard a child or young person's welfare. Such a decision should normally be preceded by an initial strategy lead by Children's Social Care and involving the Police and other involved agencies. It may involve keeping the child or young person in a safe place, or removing them to a place of safety. This may involve the use of Police protection (Children Act 1989 Section 46). The situation will then be assessed by children's social care and a decision will be made about appropriate accommodation.

8. Assessment

Following receipt of a referral, Children's Social Care has a duty to decide within 24 hours whether an assessment is required. See Assessment Protocol for more information.

Children's Social Care may decide to convene multi-agency Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) meetings (see Multi-Agency CSE Team (MACSE) Operating Protocol) which parents attend, or hold family group meetings to empower the family to use its own resources to plan the protection of the child / young person.

A Child Protection Conference will be convened within 15 days of the initial Strategy Discussion / meeting (or the last strategy discussion / meeting if there has been more than one), if the child / young person is deemed to be at continued likelihood of suffering harm and it is felt that parents are unable to provide appropriate care and protection. This may result in the child / young person being made subject of a Child Protection Plan which is regularly reviewed through the convening of Core Group meetings (six weekly) and Review Child Protection Conferences.

Where the coercer/exploiter is under the age of 18 years, Children's Social Care should consider whether any action is necessary as outlined in Harmful Sexual Behaviour Procedure.

Exit strategies should be discussed as part of multi-agency plan at all four categories of risk (be it Early Help Assessment or Duty) at TAC/TAF and CSE meetings

9. Police Action Against Alleged Perpetrators

As well as taking steps to immediately protect a child or young person, the Police can also affect a number of different approaches aimed at the alleged perpetrator/s. These include disruption methods such as:

  1. Police visits to the alleged perpetrator to serve as a deterrent;
  2. Issuing of a Child Abduction warning notice, Section 2 Child Abduction Act 1984: Police have the power to take action against those who harbour children;
  3. Police application for Sex Offence Prevention Orders (SOPO) if the offender already has a conviction or a caution for a relevant sexual or violent offence and is considered to pose a risk of sexual harm;
  4. Police application for Sexual Risk Orders in respect of individuals with no previous convictions for a sexual or violent offence but who on at least 2 occasions engaged in sexually explicit conduct or communication with a child and may pose a risk of further harm;
  5. Police investigation of other forms of criminality including drugs or firearms offences, or immigration offences.

Other local statute can be used to disrupt incidences of exploitation for example working with Police and local authority licensing departments to close venues where incidences known to be associated with sexual exploitation are known to have taken place.

Where a more complex or organised abuse is suspected to exist (e.g. multiple victims, a number of suspects working together, organised exploitation/trafficking or a pattern emerges), please refer to the Complex (Organised or Multiple) Abuse Procedure.

Where the child is in local authority care, CSE meeting recommendations should be made available to the Looked after Child Review Team and specific support plan and/or exit strategies included in the child's Care Plan.

Where the young person has left care and continues to receive 16+ services, the young person's allocated worker should be included in discussions and recommendations, and should play a key role in overseeing the implementation of decisions to promote the young person's wellbeing, safety and access to support services.

Appendix 1: Indicators of Possible Sexual Exploitation

See, Child Sexual Exploitation: Definition and Guide for Practitioners (DfE 2017), Potential indicators of child sexual exploitation.

Please see Multi-Agency CSE Team (MACSE) Operating Protocol 2017.