Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) for Professionals

CSE is a form of child sexual abuse. It can happen to children and teenagers, male and female, and from any background. It happens when the child or young person is exploited, coerced or manipulated into engaging in sexual activity in return for something they need or desire and/or for the gain of a third person.

The ‘something’ received by the child or teenager could be practical things such as food, somewhere to stay, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, money or emotional things such as affection, protection, or a sense of belonging. Fear of what might happen to them or to their family if they do not comply, can also be a significant reason why they feel coerced into the abuse.

Concerns about a child or young person?

Make a referral to Social Services 

  • Belfast HSCT - 028 9050 7000
  • Northern HSCT - 0300 1234 333
  • South Eastern HSCT - 0300 100 0300
  • Southern HSCT - 0800 783 7745
  • Western HSCT - 028 7131 4090

Contact the PSNI on 101 or ring 999 if you feel that the child or young person is in immediate danger.

Forms of abuse

The abuse can take the form of penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or other acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside the clothing. It can also include non-contact activities such as involving children in the production of sexual images, forcing children to look at sexual images or watch sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet).

Although young people aged 16 and 17 are legally able to consent to sex, they can still be manipulated and exploited. Young people may not recognise themselves as victims of this form of abuse and, therefore, may resist help. It is, however, the responsibility of parents/carers and the statutory authorities to respond to this issue as abusive. 

What are the signs?

Common signs that a child or young person may be being exploited are:

  • Changes in behaviour, possibly becoming more sexual in the way they talk, dress or behave.
  • Serious mood swings (more than usual teenage mood swings), depression, low self-esteem, possible attempts to self-harm or commit suicide.
  • Changes in friendship groups and being secretive about their new friends. Some of their friends may be older than them or even adults.
  • Going missing from school, home or care, or staying out all night and being secretive or defensive about where they have been. They may return dishevelled or distraught or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Receiving odd calls and messages on their mobiles or social media pages from unknown people, possibly much older. 
  • They may be in possession of new, expensive items which they couldn’t possibly afford, such as mobile phones, iPads, jewellery etc.
  • They may physically look tired or unwell and sleep at unusual hours of the day, or they may have marks or scars on their body which they try to conceal.

CSE in Young Males

This short video from Jacqui Montgomery-Devlin from Barnardo's NI explains the importance of understanding and responding appropriately to CSE in young males.

What can we do?

The key principles of the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland (SBNI) CSE strategy are:

    • Prevent

      To prevent it happening. 

    • Protect

      To protect children or young people who are suffering exploitation.

    • Prosecute

      To prosecute the perpetrators.

    • Proactive

      That work will be proactive on a multi-agency basis, particularly coordination between the Police and Social Services

    • Child-centred

      That work will be child centred and understand that these are children and young people who are at risk of, or who are actually being, significantly harmed.

    All professionals who work with children and their families should

    • Be involved in awareness raising of CSE within their agency.
    • Be alert for signs that a child or young person may be experiencing CSE
    • Know who is the CSE Lead in their agency
    • Be involved, within their remit, to educate children and young people and their parents about the risks of CSE and how they can seek help
    • Share information with the Police to help build up intelligence about key individuals and networks

    If you are worried about a child or young person you work with

    • Be approachable and supportive; let them know they can talk to you about anything; including things they may be ashamed of, or fears they may have about risk to themselves or others.
    • For advice and support, use the 24 hour NSPCC, CSE Helpline 0800 389 1701

    Peer on Peer CSE

    Peer on peer abuse occurs when a young person is exploited, bullied and / or harmed by their peers who are the same or similar age; everyone directly involved in peer on peer abuse is under the age of 18. ‘Peer-on-peer’ abuse can relate to various forms of abuse (not just sexual abuse and exploitation), and crucially it does not capture the fact that the behaviour in question is harmful to the child perpetrator as well as the victim.

    Key areas where peer on peer abuse occurs are:

    • Bullying, including online/cyber bullying and prejudice-based bullying
    • Racist, religious, disability and homophobic or transphobic abuse
    • Gender based violence/violence against girls and young women
    • Teenage relationship abuse
    • Issues relating to gang activity and youth violence

    This video has been created by a multitude of front-line professionals, to help support other professionals working with Young People who are suffering abuse in the form of Peer on Peer Child Sexual Exploitation.