Signs of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

For more information on Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and its effect on children, click here.

Knowing the signs of child sexual exploitation (CSE) can help give a voice to children. A child is unlikely to know they are being groomed or exploited and might not speak out. Any child can be groomed into exploitation, though some children may be more at risk. Children who are more vulnerable, for example children in care and children with disabilities, may be more heavily targeted by groomers who want the child to become dependent on them.

Any sudden changes in a young person’s lifestyle should be discussed with them. It is important to remember that warning signs will be presented differently for each child or young person being sexually exploited. Teens might also behave in a way that could be seen as ‘normal teenage behaviour’, masking the sexual exploitation.

Signs that a child or young person is being groomed or sexually exploited include:

  • Unhealthy or inappropriate sexual behaviour
  • Persistently going missing for periods of time or returning home late regularly
  • Frequently staying out late or overnight with no explanation as to where they have been
  • Being secretive about who they are talking to and where they are going
  • Using more than one phone
  • Spending more time online or on their devices
  • Excessive receipt of texts or phone calls, letters, or emails
  • Having an older girlfriend or boyfriend, or having relationships with controlling older individuals or groups
  • Unexplained absences from school, college, training, or work
  • Suddenly acquiring expensive gifts such as mobile phones, jewellery – even drugs – and not being able to explain how they came by them
  • Having mood swings and changes in temperament
  • Having hotel cards or keys to unknown places
  • Noticeable changes in behaviour – becoming secretive, defensive or aggressive when asked about their personal life.
  • Wearing inappropriate clothing that is too adult or revealing for their age
  • Significant changes in emotional well-being
  • Sudden changes in lifestyle
  • Increasingly disruptive or violent behaviour
  • Getting into trouble with the police
  • Bruises, marks on the body, bleeding in their genital or anal area, sexually-transmitted diseases, pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse or self-harm.

The WISE Project is a service for 13-25 year olds who are experiencing sexual exploitation or are at risk of experiencing it. The project is also a point of call for advice and guidance for those working with young people who have suffered from sexual exploitation.

Click here for NSPCC’s information and guidance on child sexual exploitation.

Click here for the Pan Sussex Procedure on Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE).


If you are concerned about a child, please contact Front Door For Families on 01273 290400, FrontDoorForFamilies@brighton-hove.gov.uk, or use their Online Referral Form.

If a child is in immediate danger, you should contact the police by calling 999.