Some useful information from PACE – Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation

Child sexual exploitation is a hugely distressing, but fairly rare form of sexual, emotional and physical abuse of children. Knowing the signs and being aware of the support available can help to equip parents and carers with the knowledge and tools to act.

It can be difficult to recognise the warning signs of child sexual exploitation, as they are similar to the challenges that all parents of adolescent or near-adolescent children face.

As a rough guide, child sexual exploitation can be defined in the following terms:

A person under 18 is sexually exploited when they are coerced into sexual activities by one or more person(s) who have deliberately targeted their youth and inexperience in order to exercise power over them.

The process often involves a stage of ‘grooming’, in which the child might receive something (such as a mobile phone, clothes, drugs or alcohol, attention or affection) prior to, or as a result of, performing sexual activities, or having sexual activities performed on them.

Although every case is different, there are different models of grooming.

Child sexual exploitation may occur through the use of technology without the child’s consent or immediate recognition; for example through being persuaded to post sexual images over the internet or via mobile phone.

Child sexual exploitation is often conducted with actual violence or the threat of violence. This may be threats towards the child, or her or his family and may prevent the child from disclosing the abuse or exiting the cycle of exploitation. Indeed, the child may be so confused by the process, that they do not perceive any abuse at all.

Child sexual exploitation happens when a child has been persuaded that sexual activity is a ‘normal’ part of adult life.

Adolescence is a time of experimentation and can be a particularly challenging period for parents and their children. Most parents understand the value of young people learning about themselves through new experiences, but also want to protect their child from harm.

There could be cause for concern if your child is exhibiting three or more of the following warning signs:

He or she becomes especially secretive and stops engaging with their usual friends. They may be particularly prone to sharp mood swings; many parents come to Pace reporting that their child seems to have acquired an entirely different personality. Whilst mood swings are common to all adolescents, it is the severity of behaviour change that is most indicative.

They may be associating with, or develop a sexual relationship with older men and/or women (although bear in mind that the perpetrators could approach the child through a peer from school who is already being exploited, or through the youngest member of the grooming network).

They may go missing from home – and be defensive about their location and activities, often returning home late or staying out all night (again, perpetrators know that parents will immediately suspect something is wrong if their child stays out all night, so they may initially drop the child off at the home address and before their curfew. They may even pick them up outside the school gates).

They may receive odd calls and messages on their mobiles or social media pages from unknown, possibly much older associates from outside their normal social network

They may be in possession of new, expensive items which they couldn’t normally afford, such as mobile phones, iPods or jewellery

Your child may also:

Exhibit a sudden change in dressing patterns or musical taste. Look tired and/or unwell, and sleep at unusual hours. Have marks or scars on their body which they try to conceal. Adopt new ‘street language’ or respond to a new street name

CSE perpetrators are both skilled and strategic; they aim to drive a wedge between you and your child, closing down the normal channels of communication and emotional bond between you.

Find out more about PACE and their work at

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