The government has released a working document for child welfare professionals and all those who work with children and families which outlines a revised definition for child sexual exploitation (CSE). It replaces the 2009 guidance ‘Safeguarding children and young people from sexual exploitation’.

The document, which was published in February of this year, defines CSE as:

“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.”

This definition is not statutory, meaning that it’s not a legal definition, however it has been published to help professionals detect CSE and take the necessary next steps to address it.

The guidance goes on to say:

Like all forms of child sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation:
• Can affect any child or young person (male or female) under the age of 18 years,
including 16 and 17 year olds who can legally consent to have sex;
• Can still be abuse even if the sexual activity appears consensual;
• Can include both contact (penetrative and non-penetrative acts) and non-contact
sexual activity;
• Can take place in person or via technology, or a combination of both;
• Can involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance and may, or
may not, be accompanied by violence or threats of violence;
• May occur without the child or young person’s immediate knowledge (through
others copying videos or images they have created and posting on social media,
for example);
• Can be perpetrated by individuals or groups, males or females, and children or
adults. The abuse can be a one-off occurrence or a series of incidents over time,
and range from opportunistic to complex organised abuse; and
• Is typified by some form of power imbalance in favour of those perpetrating the
abuse. Whilst age may be the most obvious, this power imbalance can also be
due to a range of other factors including gender, sexual identity, cognitive ability,
physical strength, status, and access to economic or other resources

The guidance also explains that “Child sexual exploitation is never the victim’s fault, even if there is some form of exchange: all children and young people under the age of 18 have a right to be safe and should be protected from harm. One of the key factors found in most cases of child sexual exploitation is the presence of some form of exchange (sexual activity in return for something); for the victim and/or perpetrator or facilitator.”

The document offers rough guidelines on which demographics are most affected by CSE, indicators for the phenomenon and the effects of CSE on children. It also offers suggestions on how to respond to incidences of child sexual exploitation.

If you have any questions you can contact the Department Of Education here. 


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