CSE and Missing Children


Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a form of sexual abuse.  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.

It is described in the government guidance on safeguarding children and young people from sexual exploitation as “involving 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 their performing, and/or another or others performing on them, sexual activities.

CSE can occur through the use of technology without the child’s immediate recognition; e.g. being persuaded to post sexual images on the internet/mobile phones without immediate payment or gain.

In all cases, those exploiting the child 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’s limited availability of choice resulting from their social/economic and/or emotional vulnerability.”

Key inequalities and risk factors

Any child or young person may be at risk of sexual exploitation, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, family background or other circumstances. It is also important to note that children without pre-existing vulnerabilities listed here can still be sexually exploited.

What we know locally

Those thought to be at most risk of sexual exploitation are:

  • predominantly white British girls
  • aged between 12 – 19 years of age

There are a small number of predominantly white older males identified as potential abusers, however, perpetrators are mostly:

  • young white males
  • within the age range 17 – 24 years of age

The most common circumstances associated with young people’s vulnerability in respect of child sexual exploitation identified to date, appears to be related to substance misuse.

The victims and those at risk, appear to be coerced into sexual activities in exchange for the supply of drugs and /or alcohol.  So far, agencies’ attempts to engage with these victims have revealed that in most cases they believe that their relationships with the abusers are consensual and they are reluctant to engage with statutory services in interventions designed to protect them. However, there is a good awareness amongst the local agencies of the need to sensitively engage with children/young people and where necessary persistently pursue a range of approaches with those who are resistant to offers of help.

Wider risk factors

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)
  • History of substance misuse
  • 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 or having friendships with young people who are sexually exploited
  • History of poor school attendance and truancy
  • Having learning disabilities or special needs
  • Being unsure about their sexual orientation or unable to disclose
  • Homelessness, going missing from home or care
  • Migrant children, unaccompanied asylum seeking children
  • Lacking friends from the same age group
  • Living in residential care, being a looked after child or leaving care
  • Living in inadequate accommodation
  • Having low self-esteem or self-confidence, having suffered from bullying or self-harm
  • Teenage pregnancy
  • Young carers

Facts, figures and trends

Nationally, since 2010, the scale of this abuse has become much clearer, with complex police investigations leading to successful prosecutions of multiple abusers. Knowledge of child sexual exploitation has also increased due to the substantial research evidence recently gathered, which in turn led to the launch of a two-year Inquiry into sexual exploitation in gangs and groups by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England.

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. The primary law enforcement response should be directed at perpetrators who groom children for sexual exploitation.

CSE is about control

Sexual exploitation can take many forms from the seemingly ‘consensual’ relationship where sex is exchanged for attention, drugs and/or alcohol, accommodation or gifts, to serious organised crime and child trafficking. Evidence shows that children and young people are often sexually exploited by people with whom they feel they have an intimate relationship, e.g. a boyfriend/girlfriend.

Due to the nature of the grooming methods used by perpetrators, it is very common for children and young people who are sexually exploited not to recognise that they are being abused. Young people may believe themselves to be acting voluntarily.  They and may not recognise, or be reluctant to accept that they are being sexually exploited.

As a result, it is important that all those working with children/young people and their families are aware of the sophisticated dynamics associated with the influence and control often present within child sexual exploitation. Evidence shows that perpetrators seek to establish power over victims, increasing the dependence of victims as the exploitative relationship develops.

Organised exploitation

In regard to organised exploitation and trafficking, the perpetrators of sexual exploitation are often well organised and use sophisticated tactics.

Victims are trafficked through criminal networks, often between towns and cities, forced or coerced into sex with multiple abusers.  They may also be used to recruit new victims.  They are known to target areas where children and young people gather without much adult supervision, e.g. parks or shopping centres or sites on the Internet.

Technology can play a part in sexual abuse, for example, through its use to record abuse and share it with other like-minded individuals or as a medium to access children and young people in order to groom them.  A common factor in all cases is the lack of free economic or moral choice.

Potential signs and symptoms of sexual exploitation

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
  • Offending
  • 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
  • Self-harm
  • 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.

Prevention, care and support

Multi-agency partnership working

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.  It is important to also recognise that cooperative working with our neighbouring areas is crucial as child sexual exploitation often involves the ‘trafficking’ of victims from one area to another

Since April 2013 a multi agency CSE strategic sub group of the LSCB has met quarterly to oversee and coordinate progress, activity and outcomes of multi agency work to address CSE in Bracknell Forest.

A Sexual Exploitation and Missing Risk Assessment Conference (SEMRAC) is co-chaired by Bracknell Forest children’s social care and Thames Valley police. It meets monthly to consider, and risk assess referrals made to group by agencies using the common risk assessment tool. Ongoing cases are also discussed and intervention plans are revised where appropriate.

There were 13 young people referred to the group and discussed in detail as at December 2014.

Improved intelligence

The amount of intelligence being reported in to the police by agencies in between meetings is increasing.  For example, between September and November 2014 LSCB partners undertook a scoping exercise to identify cases of young people known to local agencies who were victims of CSE and/ or those young people assessed as being ‘at risk’ of CSE.

The exercise did not reveal any names that were not already known to SEMRAC, however, a small number of possible offenders were brought to the attention of the group.  It is important to recognise that some of the perpetrators may be vulnerable young people themselves and in addition to any enforcement, will need to be supported to disengage from abusive behaviour.

The scoping exercise and evidence from across the country suggests that there are likely to be barriers to young people disclosing this type of abuse and therefore whilst we have developed a good understanding of the extent of our local problem, there are probably cases that we are not aware of. Boys and young people from minority ethnic groups may be under reported. As part of the draft strategy’s action plan regular analysis will be undertaken to scope the nature and prevalence of child sexual exploitation in the Bracknell Forest area.

Joining up

Bracknell Forest LSCB recognises that children/young people at risk of child sexual exploitation may have a range of additional needs and can be vulnerable to other forms of harm. Additional ‘Targeted Priorities’ have been identified that relate to child sexual exploitation, focussing on:

  • monitoring the effectiveness of a local Early Help in safeguarding children and young people
  • working with partner agencies to reduce incidences of Domestic Violence and the impact this has on children, young people and families
  • working with partner agencies to analyse, understand and seek ways to reduce the impact of Substance and Alcohol Misuse on children, young people and families
  • working with partner agencies to develop a greater understanding of Neglect and the impact this has on children, young people and families; and to work together to reduce the number of children experiencing neglect

Bracknell Forest’s holistic approach to tackling child sexual exploitation has four strands, with a plan setting out the work that will be undertaken under these headings: Prevention, Identification, Support and Prosecution.

Want to know more?

Believe in Children (Barnados, 2012) – practice briefing outlines the key components of effective local action on child sexual exploitation. It draws on good practice examples to show how local authorities, police and other core agencies can work together to ensure young people are better protected, and victims of this abuse are better identified and supported.

Berkshire LSCB Child Protection Procedures (accessed 3 January 2017) – online resource which sets out the core procedures, practice guidance and roles and responsibilities relating to the safeguarding of children and young people in Bracknell Forest

Child Sexual Exploitation (Barnados, accessed 3 January 2017) – a microsite for professional, parents and young people dedicated to identifying and eradicating CSE

I thought I was the only one. The only one in the world” (Office of the Children’s Commissioner, 2014) – This interim report from the end of the first year of the Inquiry into the sexual exploitation of children in gangs and groups which uncovered for the first time the extent to which children in England are being sexually exploited.

If it’s not better, it’s not the end” Inquiry into child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups: one year on (Office of the Children’s Commissioner, 2015) – report to examine the extent to which the agencies responsible (government agencies and departments, police forces, local authority children’s services, Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs)) have implemented the recommendations made in our Inquiry.

If only someone had listened” (Office of the Children’s Commissioner, 2014) – sets out nine things that need to be done to help prevent child sexual exploitation by gangs and groups and the seven principles of the See Me, Hear Me framework designed to protect children and young people.

Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham (1997 – 2013) (Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, 2014) – An independent report carried out by Alexis Jay OBE into Rotherham Borough Council’s internal processes and procedures, as well as its work alongside partners, in responding to historical cases of child sexual exploitation during the period 1997 – 2013.

Safeguarding children and young people from sexual exploitation (Department for Education, 2009) – statutory guidance outlining how organisations and individuals should work together to protect young people from sexual exploitation including: Developing local prevention strategies; identifying those at risk of sexual exploitation, taking action to safeguard and promote the welfare of particular children and young people who may be sexually exploited: and, taking action against those intent on abusing and exploiting children and young people in this way.

Sexual exploitation of children: Ofsted thematic report (Ofsted, 2014 (updated 2015)) – Thematic Ofsted inspection to evaluate effectiveness of local authorities’ and their partners in carrying out their duty to prevent child sexual exploitation in their area, to offer protection to its victims and to pursue and prosecute its abusers.

Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation Action Plan (Department for Education, 2011) – the plan which brings together actions by government and a range of national and local partners to protect children from this largely hidden form of child abuse. It sets out a requirement for all LSCBs to ‘develop an effective local strategy ensuring there is a  coordinated multi-agency response to child sexual exploitation based on a robust, thorough risk assessment of the extent and nature of child sexual exploitation locally.


This page was created on 27 February 2014 and updated on 5 January 2017.  Next review date : annually

Cite this page:

Bracknell Forest Council. (2016). JSNA – Child Sexual Exploitation and Missing Children & Young People. Available at: http://jsna.bracknell-forest.gov.uk/people-places/vulnerable-groups/safeguarding-children-and-young-people/child-sexual-exploitation-and (Accessed: dd Mmmm yyyy)


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