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4.1 Safeguarding from Sexual Exploitation

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Child Exploitation

The Milton Keynes Child Exploitation Indicator tool can be accessed via the Resources page of the MK Together website.

The MK Together 2020 - 2022 Exploitation Strategy can also be accessed via the MK Together website.



This chapter was updated in 2020/21 to update the Strategy links and the Child Exploitation Indicator tool link.


1. Introduction

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology. 
Department for Education. Child sexual exploitation: Definition and a guide for practitioners, local leaders and decision makers working to protect children from child sexual exploitation. 2017.

Sexual abuse involves the exploitation of both girls and boys under the age of 18 and the children involved are victims of abuse. Children do not make 'informed' choices to enter or remain in sexual exploitation, but may do so from coercion, enticement, manipulation or desperation.

2. Legal Position

Girls and boys under the age of 16 cannot lawfully (though may in practice) consent to sexual intercourse. Anyone engaging in sexual activity (as defined in The Sexual Offences Act 2003) with a child under the age of 16 is committing an offence. Children under 13 years of age are presumed to be incapable of consent to sexual activity and specific offences, including rape, exist for child victims under this age.

Enforcement of relevant law should be applied to abusers and coercers.

'The Sexual Offences Act 2003 (as amended by the Serious Crime Act 2015) made it a serious criminal offence to:

  • Pay for the sexual services of a child;
  • Cause or incite the sexual exploitation of children or pornography;
  • Control child involved in pornography or sexual exploitation;
  • Arrange or facilitate the sexual exploitation of children or pornography;
  • Cause or incite the sexual exploitation of children for gain;
  • Control the sexual exploitation of children.


3. Aim of Intervention

The aims of intervention by agencies are to:

  • Identify any child who is being sexually exploited or who is at risk of sexual exploitation;
  • Identify and prosecute those adults involved in either coercing or abusing the child;
  • Protect the child from further abuse and offer support to overcome abuse suffered.

A child or young person who has been sexually exploited is the victim of abuse, and as such her/his needs will require careful assessment.

All agencies should establish whether those who are known to be involved in the sexual exploitation of children are themselves parents or carers. If this is the case an assessment of the needs of those children should be considered, including whether they are suffering or likely to suffer, Significant Harm.

4. Indicators

  Staff and carers should receive training on child sexual exploitation, and therefore be aware of the key indicators of child sexual exploitation. They include:


  • Physical symptoms (bruising suggestive of either physical or sexual assault);
  • Chronic fatigue;
  • Recurring or multiple sexually transmitted infections;
  • Pregnancy and/or seeking an abortion;
  • Evidence of drug, alcohol or other substance misuse;
  • Sexually risky behaviour.


  • Truancy/disengagement with education or considerable change in performance at school.

Emotional and Behavioural Issues

  • Volatile behaviour exhibiting extreme array of mood swings or use of abusive language;
  • Involvement in petty crime such as shoplifting, stealing;
  • Secretive behaviour;
  • Entering or leaving vehicles driven by unknown adults;
  • Reports of being seen in places known to be used for sexual exploitation, including public toilets known for cottaging or adult venues (pubs and clubs).


  • Low self-image, low self-esteem, self-harming behaviour, e.g. cutting, overdosing, eating disorder, promiscuity.


  • Hostility in relationships with staff, family members as appropriate and significant others;
  • Physical aggression;
  • Placement breakdown;
  • Reports from reliable sources (e.g. family, friends or other professionals) suggesting the likelihood of involvement in sexual exploitation;
  • Detachment from age-appropriate activities;
  • Associating with other young people who are known to be sexually exploited;
  • Known to be sexually active;
  • Sexual relationship with a significantly older person, or younger person who is suspected of being abusive;
  • Unexplained relationships with older adults;
  • Possible inappropriate use of the Internet and forming relationships, particularly with adults, via the Internet;
  • Phone calls, text messages or letters from unknown adults;
  • Adults or older youths loitering outside the home;
  • Persistently missing, staying out overnight or returning late with no plausible explanation;
  • Returning after having been missing, looking well cared for in spite of having no known home base;
  • Missing for long periods, with no known home base;
  • Going missing and being found in areas where they have no known links.
  Please note: Whilst the focus is often on older men as perpetrators, younger men and women may also be involved and staff should be aware of this possibility.

Social Presentation

  • Change in appearance;
  • Going out dressed in clothing unusual for them (inappropriate for age, borrowing clothing from older young people).

Family and Environmental Factors

  • History of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse; neglect; domestic abuse; parental difficulties.


  • Pattern of previous street homelessness;
  • Having keys to premises other than those known about.


  • Possession of large amounts of money with no plausible explanation;
  • Acquisition of expensive clothes, mobile phones or other possessions without plausible explanation;
  • Accounts of social activities with no plausible explanation of the source of necessary funding.

This list is not exhaustive.

Staff and carers should be aware that many children and young people who are sexually exploited may not initially see themselves as victims. In such situations, discussions with them about concerns should be handled with great sensitivity. Seeking prior advice from specialist agencies may be useful. This should not involve disclosing personal, identifiable information at this stage.

In assessing whether a child or young person is a victim of sexual exploitation, or at risk, careful consideration should be given to the issue of consent. It is important to bear in mind that:

  • A child under the age of 13 is not legally capable of consenting to sex (it is statutory rape) or any other type of sexual touching;
  • Sexual activity with a child under 16 is also an offence;
  • It is an offence for a person to have a sexual relationship with a 16 or 17 year old if they hold a position of trust or authority in relation to them;
  • Where sexual activity with a 16 or 17 year old does not result in an offence being committed, it may still result in harm, or the likelihood of harm being suffered;
  • Non-consensual sex is rape whatever the age of the victim; and
  • If the victim is incapacitated through drink or drugs, or the victim or his or her family has been subject to violence or the threat of it, they cannot be considered to have given true consent; therefore offences may have been committed;
  • Child sexual exploitation is therefore potentially a child protection issue for all children under the age of 18 years and not just those in a specific age group.

Work with children and young people who are subject to child sexual exploitation should proceed in a sensitive and understanding way. Insensitive language risks damaging trust and reinforces the victim's own sense of self-blame. Appropriate language should be used to engage with children effectively. 

Ofsted. Time to listen - a joined up response to child sexual exploitation and missing children. 2016

  The child sexual exploitation training staff and carers receive should also include what information should be given to the police in such cases, for example vehicle registration numbers, names, physical descriptions. It may also include what action staff should take in the case of suspected sexual or physical abuse in order to protect potential evidence, which may be useful in the case of an alleged perpetrator being prosecuted.

Workers should use this version of the child exploitation indicator tool to help them in their decision making when they have concerns about a child being exploited.  This revised version of the child exploitation indicator tool replaces the previous ‘child sexual exploitation (CSE) tool’. Please delete from your systems any old copies you may have of the CSE Toolkit and use the child exploitation indicator instead.

This page is correct as printed on Thursday 26th of May 2022 11:55:15 PM please refer back to this website ( for updates.