Children in Devon are at risk of and are victims of Child Sexual Exploitation.

This page will give you more information about Child Sexual Exploitation and how you can protect your child. This video by West Yorkshire Police tells the story of Emma, who was sexually exploited.

What is Child Sexual Exploitation?

Child Sexual Exploitation (or CSE as it is sometimes referred to) is a term that explains what happens when abusers encourage children and young people under 18 into sexually exploitative situations, contexts and relationships. These often involve the young person being given things such as food, accommodation, drugs, affection, gifts of money in return for performing sexual activities. Victims will often be groomed for a period of time before physical or sexual abuse takes place.

Child Sexual Exploitation is a form of child abuse, it is not a specific criminal offence but the term encompasses a range of different forms of serious criminal conduct and a number of individual offences. The sexual exploitation of a child or young person will almost certainly involve the commission of a crime, or have the potential for a crime to be committed.

CSE can occur through the use of technology without the child’s immediate recognition, for example the persuasion to post or send sexual images of themselves with no immediate payment or gain. In all cases those exploiting the child or young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and resources available to them.

Violence, coercion and intimidation are common in child sexual exploitation cases as many perpetrators target vulnerable young people. The vulnerability is often due to economic or physical circumstances that leave the young people with few choices, however, it is important to remember any child may be targeted so it is important to help them keep safe.

Some realities….

Evidence shows that CSE can and does happen in all parts of the country. CSE is not restricted to urban areas such as large towns and cities but does in fact happen in rural areas such as villages and coastal areas – just like Devon.

Both perpetrators and victims are known to come from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. CSE is not a crime restricted to British Pakistani Muslim males or white British girls, despite media coverage of high profile cases.

Boys and young men are also targeted as victims of CSE by perpetrators. However, they may be less likely to disclose offences or seek support, often due to stigma, prejudice or embarrassment or the fear that they will not be believed

There is evidence that women can be perpetrators too. They may use different grooming methods but are known to target both boys and girls

How are children sexually exploited?

Children can be sexually exploited in many different ways, to help you understand and recognize what might be going on here are a few models that you should be aware of:

The inappropriate relationship

The young person is in a relationship with an older partner who exerts a great deal of influence and control over them due to an imbalance of power. The young person is likely to believe they are in a serious adult relationship and not recognise its exploitative nature.

Peer exploitation

The young person is in a relationship with another young person who is coercing them into some form of sexual activity with their friends. Based on national and local analysis we believe that in Devon that the majority of child sexual exploitation is perpetrated by the peer groups of the victims and that over half of those that sexually exploit children are themselves under 18.

Organised exploitation

The young people (often connected) are passed through networks, possibly over geographical distances, between towns and cities where they may be forced /coerced into sexual activity with multiple people. Often this occurs at ‘sex parties’, and young people who are involved may be used as agents to recruit others into the network.

Online Exploitation

Any of the above models may involve online exploitation where the young person shares sexual images or videos or is coerced into carrying out sexual acts via web-cam. According to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre most child sexual exploitation offences take place online. Analysis by the centre reveals that 13 and 14 year olds represent the largest single victim group of online exploitation.


PACE (Parents against Child Sexual Abuse) have created a free online learning module about the signs and symptoms as well as the impact of CSE. It also gives advice on what to do when you think a child might be at risk of CSE


Keeping safe online

The internet is great but it has its risks. A lot of Child Sexual Exploitation has an online element involving the sharing of images with peers (e.g. nude selfies) or making contacts with unknown people online who are actively seeking to groom and sexually exploit a child through image sharing or in person. Children also are also exposed to other risks when they are online including:

Access to age-inappropriate content

  • Bullying and cyberbullying
  • Personal information falling into the wrong hands
  • Talking to strangers or people who misrepresent themselves
  • People hacking their accounts

To help protect your child it is really important to try to underhand how children use the internet and what steps they can take to keep themselves safe. At the same time you can learn how to protect yourself and your own personal information from criminals that operate online.

Understanding the internet and the ever-changing social media that children use can seem daunting but thankfully there is a lot of great information out there to use and a range of organisations set up to help you.

Here are some of the resources we think are really great that you should check out.


Thinkuknow is an education programme from the National Crime Agency’s CEOP Command – or the “Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre”. CEOP is part of what is sometimes called the UK’s FBI. This part of it is dedicated to protecting children from exploitation and online abuse and they have developed a lot of really useful resources and videos for parents and children to help themselves keep safe online.

Thinkuknow is unique. It is underpinned by the latest intelligence about child sex offending and aims to ensure that everyone has access to this practical information – children, young people, their parents and carers and the professionals who work with them.

Thinkuknow provides a range of short films for parents and young people aged 4-18 and for those with special educational needs covering lots of different ways in which they can keep themselves safe both online and offline. You can use them to help start a discussion with your child. Follow the link to go straight to the videos to watch with your child

If your child has a phone that can take and share pictures make sure you check out Nude Selfies: What parents and carers need to know.
Share Aware – From the NSPCC

The NSPCC have joined force with 02 to develop Share Aware, a campaign that brings straightforward, no-nonsense advice to help untangle the web, showing how you can be a great a parent online.

The campaign includes areas where you can keep up to date on what’s new in social networking, how to help your child stay safe online and a helpline (0808 8005002) staffed by experts from the O2 & NSPCC you can call whether you want to set up parental controls, adjust privacy settings or get advice on social networks.

Talking to your child is one of the best way to help keep children safe and the NSPCC have some good resources here to help you have conversations with your child.

 Reporting inappropriate online activity

Has someone acted inappropriately towards your child online?

If your child has experienced sexual or offensive chat that has made them feel uncomfortable or someone is trying to meet up with them, you can report this directly to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre.

This may have happened in a chat room, message board, instant messenger or on a social networking site. It could be on a mobile phone, games console or computer. It could be messages, images or conversations over webcam. The important thing is that if an adult is making sexual advances to your child on the internet you should report it to CEOP. Follow this link to complete the on-line reporting tool.

Keeping safe – out and about.

Some of the following information has been taken from the PACE website (Parents against Child Sexual exploitation)  and Parents Protect .

Getting the right balance  It’s important our children feel safe and protected. It’s also important for them to learn skills in independence to help them keep themselves safe as they get older. Support your children to take risks appropriate for their age and level of maturity.

Agree reasonable boundaries

It is normal behaviour for teenagers to test your limits and boundaries. Teenagers need freedom and independence but also needs to know that you mean what you say about how staying out late. Think about the time limits you are setting, maybe check them out with other parents of teenagers and negotiate them with your child. It will help if the times you suggest are fair. If the times you are setting are reasonable then you can explain that there will be consequences for her if she breaks them. For example, you will collect them or the next time they go out they will have to be home earlier. Make sure you stick to any consequences that you lay down.

The 3 W’s! Even as children get older, make sure you know who they are going out with, where they are going, and when they’ll be back. Whenever possible have a phone number to make contact too.

Practical safety tips

You can help your child develop a plan for what to do in case they are lost or scared about something. Have a discussion about the following:

  • Where would they go? A public building, a shop or garage?
  • Who could they approach for help and advice if they felt threatened? Which friends and family members could they go and see or call that you both think are safe.
  • When and how to call the police and other emergency services
  • Do they remember there address and telephone numbers of some family and friends off by heart – they may not always have their phone!

Ensure lines of communication are open

Children and young people need to know they can talk to you about anything that is bothering them – even if they think you will be upset or cross. Abusers often rely on the victim feeling shame or guilt to keep them silent. Be in the habit of talking to your child about their experiences, their friends and what they get up to. As children grow up conversations should include topics such as what are healthy/unhealthy relationships. Encourage them to tell you if anyone they know or have met makes them feel strange or uncomfortable for whatever reason.

Get to know what they know

At the onset of puberty children can find it difficult to talk to adults, particularly their parents, about sex and relationships. Parents can find it equally hard to talk to their child. Know what sex and relationship education your child is getting at school so that you can reinforce positive messages and fill any gaps. Useful resources for young people include:- and You could look these up together so your child knows where to go if they want to.

Know their friends

Knowing your children’s friends enables you to monitor who is likely to be a positive influence on them and we can encourage them to take care of each other. Strong friendships also mean your child’s friends are more likely to tell someone if your child is getting into trouble. Secrecy around friends could indicate unsuitability.

Listen to children and young people

Listen to children and young people and look out for things they may be showing, rather than telling. Off-hand comments could trigger a concern and difficult behaviour could be an indicator that something is wrong.

Take time

Children are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation if their emotional needs are not being met and they feel they have no one they can talk to. Regular conversations give children the opportunity to talk about concerns they have sooner rather than later. You can use story lines on popular soap operas or news items to talk about sexual abuse and give your child the message they can talk to you about anything.

Useful resources

 Need help with parenting?

The Devon Safeguarding Children Board website has a page with information to help with parenting. This includes what help is available if your child starts to abuse drink or drugs.

The Underwear Rule

The NSPCC have developed an initiative called The Underwear Rule. It helps parents who have children between 5 and 11 years of age to have conversations about how to keep themselves safe.

Running Away

The Children’s Society have developed a guide for parents whose children go missing.

As your child gets older they are likely to enjoy more freedom than at any time in their life. Whilst this is an important part of growing up, you will be aware that as a parent you need to help them to enjoy this increasing sense of freedom in a safe manner.

Adolescence is a time of change for your child as they explore new relationships and develop a wider social circle, so it can be difficult at times to tell the difference between typical teenage behaviour and warning signs that they may be getting involved in an unsafe relationship.

Knowing the signs of sexual exploitation can help you prevent your child entering an unsafe relationship, intervene early if they are vulnerable, and get the right help.

If you feel something is not right, trust your instincts and seek help. Never put yourself or your child at greater risk by confronting the abuser yourself.


Grooming is when someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse or exploitation.

Children and young people can be groomed online or in the real world, by a stranger or by someone they know – for example a family member, friend or professional.

Groomers may be male or female. They could be any age. Many children and young people don’t understand that they have been groomed, or that what has happened is abuse

Click here for a guide from the NSPCC which includes a good video about online grooming.

Click here for a guide from Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation which includes a good example about a girl who was groomed through someone she new at school.


What are the signs that a child or young person may already be a victim?

Changes in a child’s behaviour, possessions or health may indicate that they are being sexually exploited. These are the changes that we watch out for, you can watch out for them too..


  1. They have money, clothes or other possessions that you don’t think they should be able to afford.
  2. They may have a second mobile phone – this may have been given to them just to contact a particular person.


  1. They may being going missing or running away from home
  2. They are being secretive about where they have been and who they have been with
  3. They are bunking off school or college
  4. They are increasingly secretive about mobile phone and computer use.
  5. They may have a significantly older boyfriend or “friend”
  6. They become withdrawn from friends or family,
  7. They increase the amount of alcohol they drink or they start taking drugs
  8. They talk about or start to harm themselves in some way..
  9. They develop an eating disorder
  10. They become difficult or challenging at home or school.
  11. They make making allegations which are then retracted


  1. They are repeatedly using emergency contraception
  2. They have large quantities of condoms,
  3. They have multiple sexually transmitted infections,
  4. They have physical injuries such as bruising indicative of physical or sexual assault
  5. They have had multiple terminations or abortions

You may just be worried they are being controlled, threatened or intimidated by somebody and have a gut feeling that something just isn’t right.

If you are worried that your child or a child you know is at immediate risk, the first thing you should do is contact the police on 999. If you have general worries about your own, or somebody else’s situation contact MASH, (Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub) on: 0345 155 1071 or email ku.vo1558541228g.xsc1558541228g.nov1558541228ed@er1558541228ucesh1558541228sam1558541228 in Devon or in Torbay call the Safeguarding Hub on 01803 208 100 or email ku.vo1558541228g.xsc1558541228g.yab1558541228rot@g1558541228nidra1558541228ugefa1558541228s.yab1558541228rot1558541228 and give as much information as you can.

If your child goes to school talk to their teacher about your concerns as well as any other children’s services that your child may be receiving. They may undertake a Child Sexual Exploitation Risk Assessment (which you and your child might be able to help complete) to try to build up a picture from all agencies what might be going on and who could be involved.

Devon County Council’s R.E.A.C.H. Team

The Reducing Exploitation and Absence from Care or Home (REACH) team provides a specialist service which supports young people who either run away or who are experiencing or at risk of CSE. The REACH team employs specialist youth workers and social workers who work alongside other professionals providing support, education and guidance.

REACH practitioners work in a range of community settings on a one-to-one basis providing interventions which prevent further abuse and reduce risk. They spend time with young people talking about things that worry them, work at the young person’s pace, recognising that CSE is a difficult subject. For more information about the REACH team click here.

PACE: Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation

Pace is the leading national charity working with parents and carers of sexually exploited children. The organisation helps parents across the UK understand what is happening to their child and how parents are the prime agents in helping their child exit exploitative relationships. It does this by offering:

  • One-to-one telephone advice and support to parents
  • Facilitating meetings with similarly-affected parents for peer support
  • Advising how to establish rights as parents and work in partnership with statutory agents such as police and social workers
  • Advice and support when pursuing disruption and prosecution of the perpetrators of child sexual exploitation
  • Befriending scheme

PACE has an advice centre which includes information about:

  • Getting help form the police
  • Living with Child Sexual Exploitation and
  • If your child gives evidence in court.


Read some real-life stories about CSE here