Child Sexual Exploitation

Cleveland Police is committed to prevent child sexual abuse, helping victims and bringing offenders to justice. It is a crime that can affect any child, anytime, anywhere - regardless of their social or ethnic background.

It involves offenders grooming youngsters and using their power to sexually abuse them. It can take many forms, whether it occurs through a seemingly 'consensual' relationship with an older boyfriend, or a young person having sex in return for attention, gifts, alcohol or cigarettes.

Sexual exploitation is child abuse and, although they may not realise it, it puts the young victim at huge risk of damage to their physical, emotional and psychological health.

Many young people who are being abused do not realise they are at risk and will not call for help. They may see themselves as willing participants when in fact their behaviour is anything but consenting.

And, while there is no stereotypical victim of exploitation, there are warning signs in children's behaviour that may indicate something is wrong – and if you know what you're looking for, you can take steps to help them.

Parents advice

Here you will find some tips and advice on how to help protect your children and family members online. View more

Tips for children – Family safety plan/contract

Here you will find some tips for children and how to create a family safety plan / contract. View more

What is child sexual exploitation?

Sexual exploitation is a form of abuse where young people are forced or manipulated into sexual activity. The abuser may groom the young person into trusting them – this can be done face-to-face or online – and they then exploit this trust for their own gain. Child Sexual Exploitation can take many forms and victims and perpetrators can be from any social or ethnic background.

Sometimes offenders may get the young person to engage in sexual activity by giving them attention, treats, alcohol, drugs or a place to stay; sometimes they may manipulate the young person into believing they are in a consensual relationship and that they love them. Either way, the young person is being taken advantage of through this controlling behaviour; it is child abuse and the victims face huge risks to their physical, emotional and psychological health.

What are the signs you need to know?

  • Has the young person received unexplained gifts or money?
  • Do they use their mobile phone secretively?
  • Do they have significantly older friends?
  • Have they been picked up from home or school by someone you don't know?
  • Are they associating with other young people who are already known to be vulnerable or involved in exploitation?
  • Have they started playing truant from school or regularly going missing from home?
  • Have they suffered from a sexually-transmitted infection?
  • Are they self-harming?
  • Has their appearance changed?

And what makes a child more at risk?

  • If they come from a chaotic or dysfunctional household
  • A lack of friends in the same age group
  • Confused about their sexuality
  • History of domestic abuse or neglect
  • Learning disabilities
  • Have come into contact with other exploited youngsters, e.g at school
  • Have suffered a recent bereavement or loss
  • Are homeless or living in residential care, a hostel or bed and breakfast
  • Have low self-esteem or confidence
  • Young carer
  • Live in a gang neighbourhood

Offenders come from many different social and ethnic backgrounds but they all have one thing in common. They are abusing young people and are using their status or position to exploit vulnerable victims.

We recognise that in some areas the number of Asian offenders is disproportionate to the population and far from ignoring this, have been tackling the issue head on by working with the local communities, giving presentations to community forums and visiting mosques to raise awareness.

We will continue to target, warn and prosecute offenders to hit home the message that this type of behaviour is not just unacceptable, it is criminal, and we will pursue those people involved and bring them to justice, irrespective of their backgrounds.


How can I get help or find out more?

Anyone with concerns about child sexual exploitation can contact police on 101. In an emergency always dial 999.

Helpful Resources


Advice on intimate picture sharing

If you're under 18, it's illegal to take or share an ‘indecent’ picture of yourself, or to look at or share someone else's. If you think it is sexual so will someone else. Indecent photographs do not have to be naked pictures so consider the context of the picture before you decide to send it.

Taking intimate pictures of you and sending them to someone else is never a good idea. Whether it’s to your boyfriend or girlfriend or someone you’ve met online, a quick snap can have long term consequences.

Why am I doing it?  Are there other, less permanent ways of showing your boyfriend or girlfriend that you care? Do you feel under pressure to send one? Ask – am I doing this for me, or for them? Your body is yours, and you choose what you do with it. Someone who really cares about you won’t put you under pressure.

What if I don’t do it?  Think about the consequences of not sending the picture? Are they worse than what could happen if you do send it? Do you think the other person will think less of you? If they care about you they shouldn’t put you under any pressure.

Am I under the influence?  Ensure you are thinking straight before sending any pictures. Take a little more time before deciding to send a picture.

Does it pass the Billboard Test?  Would you put it on a billboard? Would you share it with your parents, friends or people at school or work? If not, don't share it online.

Could I send something else?  For funny pics you can send instead download the Zipit app

Is this abuse?  Don’t share anyone else’s intimate pictures. If you send on an indecent picture or video of someone without their consent you’re breaking the law and taking part in abuse.

  1. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.  Share a picture or video online or on your phone and someone else might send it further. You could lose control of it and it can end up anywhere. What if your parents, friends or family saw it?
  2. Bullies go for it. You've probably heard stories of teenagers who have been badly bullied because of naked pictures online, like the tragic case of Amanda Todd. If you're being bullied because of an image there is help out there.
  3. It’s against the law! If you're under 18, it's illegal to take or share an ‘indecent’ picture of yourself, or to look at or share someone else's. If you think it is sexual so will someone else. Indecent photographs do not have to be naked pictures so consider the context of the picture before you decide to send it.
  4. You could be blackmailed. Swapping naked pictures with someone you’ve met online? If you send a picture you wouldn’t want other people to see then you could be in danger of being blackmailed.
  5. Will they keep your picture private? Even if you really trust them, it would only take a moment for them to share it tonight, tomorrow or next year… in that moment they could be in a silly mood, drunk or angry. They could just hit ‘send’ by accident.

If you have sent a picture of yourself to anyone you now regret, don't panic - there are things you can do. If you are a young person you can call ChildLine, the free helpline for young people. You can contact ChildLine about anything. No problem is too big or too small. ChildLine is a private and confidential service. This means that whatever you say stays between you and ChildLine.

They would only need to tell someone else if:
•         You ask them to
•         They believe your life or someone else’s life is in immediate danger
•         You are being hurt by someone in a position of trust who has access to other children like a teacher or police officer
•         You tell them that you are seriously harming another young person

Call them on 0800 1111. The number won’t appear on your phone bill. You can also visit to speak to a counsellor online.For adults there are charities like the Samaritans who offer the same service. They can be contacted online or by the telephone number 08457 90 90 90.

Report the image If an image has been shared on social networks or other sites you can report the image to sites where it's been shared. Find out how to report on some popular sites by visiting CEOP website page for more information.

If the site doesn't have any way to report the image you can call ChildLine / Samaritans and they will report it to the Internet Watch Foundation who can get the image taken down.

Are you being threatened? If you shared a naked picture or video and someone is threatening you or you shared it because someone pressured or forced you, it is never too late to get help. Don't give in to threats or send any more pictures. Walk away and tell an adult you trust or report to CEOP or Cleveland Police.

If you think you are in immediate danger call 999.
helps young people who are being sexually abused or are worried that someone they’ve met is trying to abuse them.

If you’ve met someone online, or face to face, and they are putting you under pressure to have sex or making you feel uncomfortable you should report to CEOP.

This might be someone:

  • Making you have sex when you don’t want to
  • Chatting about sex online
  • Asking you to meet up face to face if you’ve only met them online
  • Asking you to do sexual things on webcam
  • Asking for sexual pictures of you
  • Making you feel worried, anxious or unsafe

If this is happening to you, or you’re worried that it might be, report to CEOP or Cleveland Police. The CEOP website is with Cleveland Police being contactable on the non-emergency number 101.