Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is a top priority for Merseyside's Police Commissioner.

High profile cases in places such as Rochdale, Oxfordshire and Rotherham have highlighted the need for multi-agency partners and police forces to work together and be vigilant; be aware of CSE signs and identify children and young people who are at risk.

As such, Jane Kennedy has funded a campaign run by Merseyside Police and the region's Safeguarding Children Boards, Listen to My Story, with the aim of raising the awareness of CSE to reduce harm to children and young people who are being sexually exploited, but do not believe they are being sexually exploited.Listen to my story graphic

CSE is child abuse and children and young people who become involved face high risks to their physical, emotional and psychological health and well-being.

Safeguarding vulnerable child and young people is the responsibility of all public agencies.

Why are children and young people vulnerable?

The common issues and reasons can be due to a number of factors including a young person’s low self-esteem and a poor self-image.

Young people who run away from home are recognised as being more at risk of being targeted as a victim of sexual exploitation.

Vulnerabilities are identified and targeted by the abuser, whether the young person is living with their family, looked after, away from home or they have run away.

Sexual exploitation can be linked to other issues in a child or young person’s life, and authorities may only have limited opportunities to gain their trust so it is very important that all staff in (INSERT ORGANISATION) are able to recognise the warning signs that a child may be a victim of, or at risk of sexual exploitation.

The following are typical vulnerabilities in children prior to abuse:

  • Living in a chaotic or dysfunctional household (including parental substance use, domestic violence, parental mental health issues, 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 CSE 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
  • Homeless
  • Lacking friends from the same age group
  • Living in a gang neighbourhood
  • Living in residential care
  • Living in hostel, bed and breakfast accommodation or a foyer
  • Low self-esteem or self-confidence
  • Young carer

The warning signs

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
  • Involvement in offending
  • Repeat sexually-transmitted infections, pregnancy and terminations
  • Absent 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
  • Self-harm
  • Thoughts of or attempts at suicide

Watch David's Story


What to do if you think a child is at risk

If you think the life of a child is in immediate danger, please dial 999.

In a non-emergency, please contact 101 or contact your nearest Safeguarding Children Board:

Knowsley Safeguarding Children Board

Liverpool Safeguarding Children Board

Sefton Local Safeguarding Children Board

St Helens Safeguarding Children Board

Wirral Safeguarding Children Board

If you are a  healthcare professional take a look at this video that provides advice on identifying the signs of child sexual exploitation in vulnerable young peope produced by Health Education England.

CSE: Common issues

  • It is often the case that children and young people do not perceive themselves to be victims, as they consider they have acted voluntarily. The reality is that their behaviour is not voluntary or consenting.
  • Common feature of CSE is that the child or young person does not recognise the coercive nature of the relationship and does not see him or herself as a victim of exploitation

Types of CSE

  • Inappropriate relationship - Usually involving one offender who has inappropriate power or control over a young person (physical, emotional or financial). One indicator may be a significant age gap. The young person may believe they are in a loving relationship.
  • The Boyfriend Model and Peer Exploitation - The offender befriends and grooms a young person into a ‘relationship’ and then coerces or forces them to have sex with friends or associates. Sometimes this can be associated with gang activity but not always.
  • Organised/networked sexual exploitation or trafficking - Young people (often connected) are passed through groups, possibly over geographical distances, between towns and cities where they may be forced/coerced into sexual activity with multiple men. Often this occurs at ‘parties’ and young people who are involved may recruit others into the network. Some of this activity can involve the organised ‘buying and selling’ of young people by offenders. Organised exploitation varies from spontaneous networking between groups of offenders to more serious organised crime where young people are effectively ‘sold’.
  • Gangs and groups - Gangs – mainly comprising men and boys aged 13 – 25 years old, who take part in many forms of criminal activity (e.g. knife crime or robbery) who can engage in violence against other gangs, and who have identifiable markers, for example, a territory, a name, or sometimes clothing. While a gang can sexually exploit children, this is not the reason why a gang is formed.

By contrast, CSE by a group involves people who come together in person or online for the purpose of setting up, coordinating and/or taking part in the sexual exploitation of children in either an organised or opportunistic way.

Find out more

Visit www.ceop.police.uk