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Child exploitation

What is child exploitation?

Child exploitation (CE) is when a child or young person is tricked or forced into doing something in return for things like attention, affection, money, drugs or alcohol.

It’s a kind of abuse and it is against the law, although young people might not see it that way because they are groomed by their abusers. Gradually the abuser manipulates the child to do things they are ashamed of and by the time the child realises there is something wrong, they can feel trapped and may feel too scared or ashamed to tell anyone.

Both grooming and sexual exploitation can happen in real life and online. In fact, online contact often plays a big part in exploitation.

The Story of Jay (external website)

What do I need to know?

CSE can happen to anyone – both boys and girls can be affected and it doesn’t matter what your ethnic or religious background is, or whether you are gay or straight. CSE is never the young person’s fault and it is not OK.

What signs can I look out for?

Young people who are being sexually exploited often won’t tell anyone else, even their best friends. But grooming changes how someone acts, so you might be able to pick up on signs of possible CSE in someone you know. Here are some indicators you can look out for:

  • They become very secretive, stop seeing their usual friends and have really bad mood swings.
  • They have new relationships with older men and/or women.
  • They go missing from home or stay out all night.
  • They get calls and messages from outside their normal circle of friends.
  • They have new, expensive items that you know they couldn’t afford and which they can’t explain, like mobile phones or jewellery – or lots of ‘invisible’ or ‘virtual’ gifts such as phone credit and online gaming credits.
  • They suddenly change their taste in dress or music.
  • They look tired or unwell and sleep at unusual hours.
  • They have marks or scars on their body, which they try to hide.

Any one sign doesn’t mean that a young person was, or is, being sexually abused, but the presence of several suggests that you should begin to ask questions and consider seeking help.

Further information and guidance


Bernardo's has developed lots of great resources on CSE. This includes:

  • this RUWise2It leaflet
  • their Real Love Rocks website with information and advice on CSE, including a video which explains more about CSE
  • some real life stories and videos from people who have been exploited
  • the Wud-U? app that's been developed for young people, looking at possible risky situations and ways in which to stay safe


NSPCC provides information on CSE including different types of exploitation and real stories from young people who have been through it. For more information visit the NSPCC CSE webpages.

Buckinghamshire Safeguarding Children Board

The Buckinghamshire Safeguarding Children Board is a statutory body established under the Children Act 2004. It is independently chaired and consists of senior representatives from the key agencies and bodies that have regular contact with children and young people or responsibility for services to them.

If you would like to talk to someone

If you are worried about yourself or a friend it is important to tell someone you can trust.

ChildLine offers a free 24-hour helpline for children in the UK to talk about any problem.
Telephone: 0800 1111
NSPCC provides a free 24-hour helpline for children and adults.
Telephone: 0808 800 5000.

Concerned about a child?

Please contact the following for further information or guidance:

Thames Valley Police: If you or a child/young person is in immediate danger call 999. Alternatively contact your local police on 101, who will have a dedicated team you can talk to about CSE.

Buckinghamshire Council’s First Response Team: If you think a child or young person is being abused or neglected, please call 0845 460 0001 (Monday-Friday) or 0800 999 7677 (out of hours).