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Child Sexual Exploitation and Missing Children

What is Child Sexual Exploitation and what does it mean?

Child Sexual Exploitation is child abuse involving children and young people receiving something, such as attention, affection, gifts, alcohol, drugs or accommodation, as a result of them being coerced into performing sexual activities, or having others perform sexual acts on them.  It can occur without physical contact, when children are groomed to post indecent sexual images of themselves on the internet.

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Any young person can become a victim of sexual exploitation and many young people, who are being exploited, frequently do not recognise they are being abused. The link between children being sexually exploited and children going missing is a recognised risk factor. Children who go missing may be ‘pushed away’ following abuse or other factors and/or ‘pulled away’ because they are being exploited.

It is important for everyone to be aware of possible indicators of exploitation. The lists below are not exhaustive, but contain warning signs and typical vulnerability factors.

  • Missing from home or care and / or absent from school
  • Involvement in offending
  • Drug or alcohol misuse
  • Repeat Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), pregnancies and terminations
  • Poor mental health, self harm and / or thoughts or attempts at suicide
  • Receipt of gifts from unknown sources
  • Changes in physical appearance and / or physical injuries
  • Evidence of sexual bullying and / or vulnerability through the internet and / or social networking sites
  • Estranged from their family
  • Recruiting others into exploitative situations  

The following are typical vulnerability factors in young people;remember though that young people from any background may become victims of sexual exploitation

  • Living in a chaotic or dysfunctional household (including parental substance abuse, domestic abuse, criminality etc)
  • History of abuse
  • Recent bereavement or loss
  • Gang association (either through relatives, peers or intimate relationships)
  • Learning disabilities
  • Associating with other young people who are victims of CSE
  • Uncertainty about their sexual orientation or identity and/or unable to disclose this to their families
  • Living in residential care
  • Lack of friends from the same age group
  • Homeless or living in a hostel, B&B or a foyer
  • Low self esteem or confidence

If you are a parent or carer, please have a look at the information listed below, which provides you with more information about what you can do to protect your child and who to contact if you have concerns.

If you are a professional working with children and young people, you can find out more information by following the links below.


Useful documents

Useful websites

The following training is available online:

Safeguarding children and young people from sexual exploitation is a key priority for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Safeguarding Children Board. The four Local Safeguarding Children Boards in Cornwall and Devon (Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, Devon, Torbay and Plymouth) have agreed the South West Peninsula Child Sexual Exploitation Strategy and Protocol.  The Protocol is designed to support effective collaborative safeguarding responses from all agencies when a child / young person is at risk of, or is, being sexually exploited. The protocol should be used in conjunction with the South West Child Protection Procedures.  There is also a Child Sexual Exploitation Risk Assessment Toolkit to assist professionals.

Cornwall the Isles of Scilly has a Missing and Child Sexual Exploitation Sub-Group that reports to the Safeguarding Children Board and three Multi-Agency Operational Forums where information is shared regarding adults of concern, locations of interest, unusual activity at an address or when there are concerns that a young person is being exploited.

Further information can be found on the Missing Children and Child Sexual Exploitation Group page.

Free 24/7 Helpline:  116 000

There is a dedicated helpline, provided by the Devon and Cornwall Police, for children and young people with concerns about child sexual exploitation (CSE) involving themselves or others.  This 'Say Something' helpline is free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  The helpline number is 116000.  For further information, please see the press release provided at the launch of the helpline in July 2015.