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Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

Preventing and disrupting Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in Sussex is a high priority for Sussex Police and partners. That is why a Pan Sussex CSE Campaign was launched in 2016.

'Child Sexual Exploitation is happening in Sussex' #StopCSE




Many people have heard about CSE happening in other parts of the country but find it hard to believe it's happening in their own area. The truth is that CSE is happening in Sussex and we all need to know about it. Being aware of it is the first step towards putting a stop to it.

More information, guidance and how to report CSE for taxi drivers.

More information, guidance and how to report CSE for people who work in hotels and B&Bs.

"I totally believed there was no one I could tell. He had convinced me he was the only person who really cared about me." Exploited child

"I just needed someone to ask why I had changed… I would have told them everything." Exploited child

"I just hoped that one day one of the men would be a real boyfriend, that he'd like me for the real me and that he'd want to save me. But it never happened." Young victim, quoted by Barnardo's

It's never the child's fault

CSE is a crime that can affect any child, anytime, anywhere, regardless of their social or ethnic background. CSE can be carried out by individuals, by street gangs or by groups. It can be motivated by money or by sexual gratification. But in all cases, there is an imbalance of power - vulnerable children are controlled and abused by adults or by other children.

The grooming process

Perpetrators gain control over children by grooming them, offering excitement, drugs, alcohol, gifts and affection. At first, this control may take the guise of 'romance' or 'friendship'.

But once a child does something - even something really small - that they know they might get 'in trouble' for, they become vulnerable to blackmail. As the exploitation gets worse, terrifying threats and violence may be used to keep children compliant. They are sexually exploited not just by the original perpetrators but often by many other abusers.

It's a trap

Exploited children are trapped because they often believe the abuse is their own fault - they fear they will be blamed or punished if they tell anyone what is happening. They are ashamed of what they are forced to do and are scared they will not be believed.

In many cases, children believe they are in a loving relationship with their exploiter. What's more the perpetrator will do everything they can to isolate children further by convincing them that their families do not really understand or love them.

Look out for the warning signs

Changes in a child's behaviour:

  • becomes especially secretive
  • stops seeing their usual friends
  • sudden changes of taste in dress or music
  • sexualisation of their appearance and behaviour
  • receives increased number of calls and messages
  • sharp, severe mood swings
  • starts using a different 'street language' or name
  • thoughts of self-harming or low self esteem


  • Relationships with older men and/or women (although not all perpetrators are older).
  • Absence from school; repeatedly running away from home.
  • New, expensive items that they couldn't afford, such as mobile phones, iPods or jewellery - as well as 'invisible' or 'virtual' gifts such as phone credit and online gaming credits.
  • Looks tired or unwell and sleeps at unusual hours.
  • Has marks or scars on their body, which they try to hide.
  • Involvement in crime, use of drugs and alcohol.
  • Entering or leaving vehicles.

If you have concerns that a child might be at risk of CSE, call Sussex Police on 101. In an emergency always dial 999.


Perceptions and Reality of Child Sexual Exploitation

Perception: It only happens in certain ethnic/cultural communities

Reality: In spite of what we have seen in the media about high profile cases, both perpetrators and victims can come from a variety of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. But research shows that he majority of known perpetrators in the UK are lone white males.


Perception: It only happens to children in care


Reality: The majority of victims of CSE (80%) are living at home. However, children in care can be particularly vulnerable.


Perception: It only happens to girls


Reality: Boys are also victims of CSE. However, they may be less likely to tell anyone because of the stigma of being a male victim, and the fear that they will not be believed.


Perception: It is only perpetrated by men


Reality: There is evidence that women can be perpetrators of this crime too. They may use different grooming methods but are known to target both boys and girls.


Perception: It is always adults abusing children


Reality: Child-on-child sexual exploitation happens too - for example, children are sometimes used to 'recruit' others, by inviting them to locations for parties where they will then be introduced to adults or forced to perform sexual acts on adults.


Perception: It only happens in large towns and cities


Reality: CSE can and does happen in all parts of the country, in rural and coastal areas as well as towns and cities. Children can also be transported (trafficked) between towns, cities, villages etc., for the purpose of being sexually exploited.


Perception: Children are either victims or perpetrators


Reality: Around 6 per cent per cent of victims are also perpetrators. But although children may appear to be willing accomplices in the abuse of other children, this is because they are themselves controlled by an abuser.


Perception: Parents should know what is happening and should be able to stop it


Reality: Parents may not be able to identify what is happening: they may suspect that something is not right but not be able to stop it due to the perpetrator's control and threats.


Perception: Children can consent to being exploited.


Reality: A child cannot consent to their own abuse.

Firstly, the law sets down 16 as the age of consent to any form of sexual activity.

Secondly, any child under 18 cannot consent to being trafficked for the purposes of exploitation.

Thirdly, regardless of age, a person's ability to consent may be affected by a range of other issues including influence of drugs, threats of violence, grooming, and a power imbalance between victim and perpetrators. This is why a 16 or 17 year-old can be sexually exploited even though they are old enough to consent to sexual activity.


Perception: If it happens online, it is not CSE.


Reality: If a child is being manipulated or forced into take part in sexual activity, it is CSE, even if it takes place online.


Some of the emerging challenges we face include responding to new technologies that aid and assist CSE such as offences being streamed live online and 'sextortion'.

In this video, CSE Analyst, Aimee Streeter, describes her intelligence-led role, the immediate risks and emerging challenges around CSE.