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 116 000 for confidential help and advice, click on one of the links on this page or contact us (the police) direct on 101 or 999 if you are in immediate danger. You can also ring childline for help and advice on 0800 11 11.

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

Contact us (the 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.

Kayleigh's Love Story Trailer

Kayleigh Haywood began speaking to Luke Harlow, a man she had never met, on 31 October 2015.

Over the course of 13 days they exchanged 2643 messages. Harlow told the 15-year-old all the things many teenage girls want to hear. He told her she was beautiful, how much he cared for her and that she was special.

Harlow was grooming Kayleigh, along with two other young girls he had also been speaking to. But it was Kayleigh that finally agreed to his requests to spend the night of Friday 13 November 2015 at his house.

She spent the next day with him too, and in the early hours of Sunday 15 November, having been held against her will by Harlow and by his next door neighbour Stephen Beadman, Kayleigh was raped and murdered by Beadman.

With the support of Kayleigh’s family, Leicestershire Police has made a film about aspects of the last two weeks of her life.

Kayleigh’s Love Story is as a warning to young people about the dangers of speaking to people they don’t know online. The film highlights just how quick and easy it can be for children to be groomed online without them or those around them knowing it is happening. Its purpose is to protect children now and in the future and to stop another family losing a child in this way.

It’s vital that young people understand the importance of staying safe online and parents can spot the signs that may indicate their child is being groomed.

Visit Kayleighs love story for more information

The Sexual Exploitation of Children - Can you recognise the signs?

Barnardos Real Love Rocks, the online space all about raising awareness around Child Sexual Exploitation and what a healthy and safe relationship is.



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Devon & Cornwall Police
Police Headquarters
Middlemoor, Exeter

Tel: 101
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