We know that different forms of harm often overlap, and that perpetrators may subject children and young people to multiple forms of abuse, such as criminal exploitation (including county lines) and sexual exploitation.

In some cases, the exploitation or abuse will be in exchange for something the victim needs or wants (for example, money, gifts or affection), and/or will be to the financial benefit or other advantage, such as increased status, of the perpetrator or facilitator.

Children can be exploited by adult males or females, as individuals or in groups. They may also be exploited by other children, who themselves may be experiencing exploitation – where this is the case, it is important that the child perpetrator is also recognised as a victim.

While the age of the child may be a contributing factor for an imbalance of power, there are a range of other factors that could make a child more vulnerable to exploitation, including, sexual identity, cognitive ability, learning difficulties, communication ability, physical strength, status, and access to economic or other resources.

Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE)

Criminal exploitation is child abuse where children and young people are manipulated and coerced into committing crimes.

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or a group of individuals 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. This can be:

  • in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or
  • for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator.

The signs of CCE and CSE

Child sexual exploitation can be difficult to identify. This is because the signs can be mistaken for ‘normal teenage behaviour’.  It can be a one-off occurrence or a series of incidents over time and range from opportunistic to complex organised abuse.

Children involved in both CCE and CSE may:

  • appear with unexplained gifts, money or new possessions.
  • associate with other children involved in exploitation.
  • suffer from changes in emotional well-being.
  • misuse alcohol and other drugs.
  • go missing for periods of time or regularly come home late.
  • regularly miss school or education or do not take part in education.

Other specific indicators of CSE may include:

  • having older boyfriends or girlfriends
  • suffering from sexually transmitted infections
  • displaying sexual behaviours beyond expected sexual development or become pregnant.

What should you do if you suspect a child is the victim of CCE or CSE?

Members of staff will report this as a child protection issue to the Designated Safeguarding Lead. 

Parents/carers should raise concerns with the relevant pastoral team/s who can take advice on what next steps to take.  Alternatively, parents/carers can report concerns directly to the police or to MASH.

Members of the public should report County Lines or related concerns to the police or to MASH (020 8770 6001).

Further information

Further information and guidance about keeping your child safe from child sexual exploitation and child criminal exploitation can be found at:

Parents Protect

Protecting children from sexual exploitation | NSPCC Learning

Grooming: recognising the signs | NSPCC Learning