Child sexual exploitation

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a crime that can affect any child, anytime, anywhere - regardless of their social or ethnic background.

The 'Say something' helpline provides help and advice for young people around child sexual exploitation.

Phone or text: 116 000 free for immediate support 24/7.

What is child sexual exploitation?

Sexual exploitation is a type of child abuse. It puts a young person at huge risk of damage to their physical, emotional and psychological health.

CSE involves young people and children being 'groomed' and sexually exploited.   It can take  many forms, such as through an apparently 'consensual' relationship with an older person or a young person having sex in return for attention, gifts, cigarettes or alcohol.

Many young people who are being exploited do not realise they are at risk and will not ask for help. Some may see themselves as willing participants in such abuse, not realising that what is happening to them is illegal.

There are warning signs that may indicate something is wrong.  If you know what you're looking for, you can take steps to help them.

What are the signs that a child or young person is being sexually exploited?

  • Has the young person received unexplained gifts or money?
  • Do they use their mobile phone excessively and/or secretively?
  • Do they have significantly older friends?
  • Have they been picked up from home or school by someone you don't know?
  • Are they associating with other young people who are already known to be vulnerable or involved in exploitation?
  • Have they started playing truant from school or regularly going missing from home?
  • Have they suffered from a sexually-transmitted infection?
  • Are they self-harming?
  • Has their appearance changed?

Some young people can be more vulnerable because of their circumstances, such as:

  • Living within a difficult or challenging household
  • Having a lack of friends in the same age group
  • Confusion about their sexuality
  • A history of domestic abuse or neglect
  • Having learning disabilities
  • Coming into contact with other exploited youngsters, e.g. at school
  • Suffering a recent bereavement or loss
  • Being homeless or living in residential care, a hostel or bed and breakfast
  • Having low self-esteem or confidence
  • Being a young carer
  • Living in a gang neighbourhood

If you know a young person displaying warning signs and vulnerabilities from the above list you should take action and seek help.

Offenders come from many different social and ethnic backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common. They are abusing young people and are using their status or position to exploit vulnerable young people.

We will continue to target, disrupt and prosecute offenders to reinforce the message that this type of behaviour is not acceptable, it is a criminal offence.

How can I get help?

If you are being exploited or abused, help is available.  You can call 116000 for confidential help and advice, click on one of the links on the right-hand side of this page or contact us direct on the numbers below. 

If you are concerned about a child or young person and want to speak to someone:

Contact police on 101. In an emergency always dial 999.

If you would prefer not to speak to the police you can contact Children's Services in your area:

  • Devon Tel: 0345 155 1071 or email MASH and give as much information as you can. Out of hours: 0845 6000388.
  • Cornwall Tel: 0300 123 1116 or email MARU. Out of hours: 01208 251 300.
  • Torbay Tel: 01803 208100 or email Torbay Safeguarding Hub.
  • Plymouth Tel: 01752 308600. Out of hours: 01752 346784.

What are we doing to tackle child sexual exploitation (CSE)?

We have a Peninsula CSE steering group with a commitment from all agencies to work together in support of our young people, whether vulnerable to or have been victims of child sexual exploitation.

We are building on our existing protective and support processes to prevent CSE and mitigate its impact. There are dedicated members of staff supporting young people to escape the cycle of abuse. Across the peninsula all agencies are working to raise awareness to ensure that everyone is sensitive to CSE and able to spot the signs and take action. 

Devon and Cornwall Police will investigate any report of a child being abused or sexually exploited and work with partner agencies to provide support and safety for any person at risk. We have specialist officers to investigate child abuse and sexual offences who are experienced in supporting children through the process.

One to Watch: The Sexual Exploitation of Children - Can you recognise the signs?


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