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Child Sexual Exploitation


Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is a form of child sexual abuse. It is complex and can manifest itself in different ways.

The current agreed definition of CSE "involves exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where young people (or a third person or persons) receive 'something' (for example: food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of them performing, and/or another or others performing on them, sexual activities. CSE can occur through the use of technology without the child's immediate recognition; for example being persuaded to post sexual images on the Internet/mobile phones without immediate payment or gain. In all cases, those exploiting the child/young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources. Violence, coercion and intimidation are common, involvement in exploitative relationships being characterised in the main by the child or young person's limited availability of choice resulting from their social/economic and/or emotional vulnerability." (HM Government, 2012).

There is currently an ongoing consultation in to the Definition of CSE and the final definition will be published Spring 2016. The proposed new definition is:

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child abuse. It occurs where anyone under the age of 18 is persuaded, coerced or forced into sexual activity in exchange for, amongst other things, money, drugs/alcohol, gifts, affection or status. Consent is irrelevant, even where a child may believe they are voluntarily engaging in sexual activity with the person who is exploiting them. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact and may occur online.'

As with all types of abuse, CSE can have a devastating impact on the child or young person who is being exploited. It can disrupt their social lives and education, and cause long-term mental health problems including self-harm, attempts at suicide, and relationship behaviours which can affect achieving a fulfilling life.

HM Government, 2015a stated that tackling child sexual abuse was a national priority.

What do we know?

Recent trials and serious case reviews have shown that CSE is not isolated to one or two areas. In the past, children have been let down by services. There are also growing concerns and awareness of online grooming and incidents of 'peer on peer' sexual exploitation, whereby minors are sexually exploited by their contemporaries. Nationally, the focus is on combating perpetrators operating; 'that is adult men seeking to groom, opportunistically exploit or systematically control children for sex, often committing rape and other serious sexual violence' (Department of Communities and Local Government, 2015). In her report Louise Casey made four points relating to CSE:

  • CSE is child abuse and a crime. We need to focus on perpetrators to detect, prevent and disrupt at the earliest stage. Subsequently, offenders should be prosecuted and face the full force of the criminal justice system.
  • Victims are children, however they present themselves. They cannot give consent and there is no scenario in which victims should be considered as young women or as making choices.
  • CSE is a community safety issue and the partnership need to use community safety tactics and action to keep children safe.
  • We need to seek out sexual exploitation and not fear what we find

CSE has had a higher profile in recent years, due to the widely publicised cases in Rochdale, Rotherham and Oxfordshire. Separate independent reviews for these cases highlighted that organised CSE had "been happening on a massive scale over many years" and that "local agencies had dismissed concerns or put in place an adequate response" (Jay, A., 2013). It is clear that CSE has been an issue for other local authorities, although these have not been subject to the same media coverage.

CSE is a hidden crime. It can be difficult to identify victims, as children and young people rarely disclose abuse through sexual exploitation due to a number of complex factors. For example, children not being aware that they are being abused, fear and shame and feeling 'in love' with the perpetrator(s).

Facts, Figures, Trends

Evidence submitted to the Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups indicated that over 16,500 children and young people in England were at high risk of CSE in 2010/11. 2,409 children were confirmed as victims over this period, although this was recognised as an under-estimation of the true number of victims.

The Inquiry's findings showed that victims of CSE were both male and female, and a range of ages, ethnicities and sexualities. Of the 2,408 victims identified:

  • Ages ranged between 4 and 19 years old, with a peak age of 15.
  • Majority were girls.
  • Higher rate of victimisation of children from black and minority ethnic (BME) groups. 28% of all victims identified were from a BME group, which is an over-representation of England's population.
  • 155 were also identified as being perpetrators of CSE.

The Inquiry explained that the characteristics common to all victims were "their powerlessness and vulnerability", rather than a particular demographic. However, while it is acknowledged that "children from loving and secure home can be abused...those for whom there are no protective measures in place are at greatest risk".

In a recently published report by The Children's Society (2015) it was stated that:

  • An estimated 50,000 16 and 17 year old girls reported having experienced a sexual offence in the previous 12 months (based on analysis of Crime Survey for England and Wales data)
  • An estimated 4,900 16 and 17 year olds reported a sexual offence to the police in England in the past 12 months
  • An estimated 890 of the reported sexual offences against 16 to 17 year olds where someone was charged or received a summons or community disposal

Child Sexual Exploitation - SEMRAC data

Local data is monitored through the Sexual Exploitation and Missing Risk Assessment Conference (SEMRAC) to assess the level of CSE risk for those young people referred by MASH (Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub), which has been running since August 2014. This gives an early indication of known prevalence. Case numbers and risk levels are reviewed monthly.

The chart below in figure 1 shows the number of young people and their designated risk level that are active cases at each SEMRAC. It should be noted that the same young person will feature at a number of meetings.

Figure 1: Active cases at SEMRAC, Oct 2014 - May 2015


Source: Reading Borough Council

SEMRAC reviews the referred young people and considers the level of risk at each meeting until the risk is reduced below level 1.

SEMRAC has been recording the levels of risk since August 2014, to date 21 young people have reduced their level of risk, 13 of these young people are no longer on the SEMRAC list.  A further 10 young people remained at the same level of risk whilst for 7 young people their level of risk has been increased               

As of the 25th February 2016 there are 13 young people who have a designated level of risk in SEMRAC, there are a further 3 children that will be discussed and risk level determined at the next SEMRAC.

National & Local Strategies (Current best practices)

National Strategies

Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children, including keeping children safe from sexual exploitation, is a key part of the Government's drive to improve outcomes for children and young people.  All agencies providing services to children have a statutory duty under Section 11 of the Children's Act 2004 to understand the risks and ways in which children can be exploited sexually and the ways in which their agencies can safeguard them against this.

This is underpinned by a number of key national strategies and policies:

  • HM Government (2015b); Working Together to Safeguard Children  - the revised core Government guidance which sets out how organisations and individuals should work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children
  • Department for Children, Schools and Families (2008); The Staying Safe Action Plan (Archived).
  • Department of Health (2009); Healthy lives, brighter futures: The strategy for children and young people's health - sets out the Government's long-term strategy to support children's and families' health including a commitment to ensure that all organisations with responsibility for child health and wellbeing are fulfilling their statutory responsibilities for safeguarding children (Archived).
  • HM Government (2012); Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation this national guidance supplements 'Working together to Safeguard Children  and is aimed at local safeguarding children's boards, practitioners and professionals working with children and young people.


Following the independent review of CSE in Rotherham, the Government published a report to set out additional steps in Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation (2015a). The actions highlighted in the report included:

  • a new whistleblowing national portal for child abuse, which will spot patterns of failure across the country
  • consulting on an extension to the new "wilful neglect" offence to children's social care, education and elected members
  • raising the status of child sexual abuse to a "national threat" in the Strategic Policing Requirement so that it is prioritised by every police force

Accountability and leadership at a local level was also highlighted in the report. While Central Government will lead the national response, it states that "local authorities, police, children's and health services have a statutory duty to work together to identify and stamp it out in their area. Communities must help to tackle the problem, rather than assume victims bring it on themselves." There will therefore be an expectation that all Local Safeguarding Children Boards will conduct regular local assessments on the effectiveness of local responses to CSE and publish the outcome of those assessments through their annual reports. Government data collections will also be improved to include data on the prevalence of child sexual abuse, so that the performance of local areas is more transparent to the communities they serve.

The Local Government Association has also produced a resource pack for local authorities to use when planning work locally.

Local procedures and arrangements

In 2015, Reading's Local Safeguarding Children's Board published a 3-year strategy to Safeguard Children and Young People at Risk of or Experiencing Sexual Exploitation in Reading (2014-2017). This strategy builds on the progress that has already been made in Reading to ensure that we are effective in preventing CSE from happening, protecting those who may be at risk, pursuing and disrupting those who may pose a risk to children and ensuring victims of CSE are supported in their recovery.

Reading's Local Safeguarding Children's Board has already:

  • Set up a CSE and Missing Children's Steering Group, which reports to the Local Safeguarding Childrens Board (LSCB). This is chaired by the Director of Education & Early Help Services.
  • Established a CSE and Missing Children Operational Group. This has strong multi-agency support led by Reading Borough Council and Thames Valley Police.
  • Identified CSE champions across Reading Borough Council
  • Made significant investment in training professionals through single and multi-agency training at universal, targeted and specialist levels
  • Delivered bespoke training to frontline practitioners on sharing intelligence with the police
  • Funded performances of 'Chelsea's Choice' for nine secondary schools in Reading, as part of an educational/preventative programme. This reached approximately 2,000 young people
  • Completed an ongoing investigation pursuing those who have harmed or present a CSE risk to children.                                                                                               

There are also a number of established services to support victims of CSE including counselling service, CSE champions, Source Young People's Drug & Alcohol Team, Health drop-ins, Youth Outreach Nurse, Targeted Youth Support and the Barnardos U-Turn CSE Service..

Local procedures for CSE are included in the Berkshire Local Safeguarding Children Boards Child Protection procedures. These provide guidance for practitioners who may encounter children and young people who are affected by sexual exploitation, either by being at risk or by actively being sexually exploited.  These procedures are written in accordance with the Government guidance contained within Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation.

The single point of contact within Thames Valley Police and Reading Children's Social Care ensures there is a timely and assured response to any concerns, whether these are related to known, suspected or unconfirmed CSE events. The close working between the police, Children's Social Care and other agencies ensures intelligence about hotspots is promptly shared. Thames Valley Police covers the local authority area and the whole of Berkshire which enables them to ensure a level of consistency in decision making and responses to CSE referrals and issues.

In March 2015, Thames Valley Police announced that they were providing training to 13 hostels and Bed & Breakfasts in the Reading area on how to spot the signs of CSE. This training has been put in place following the independent review into CSE in Oxfordshire, which stated that more could have been done to spot signs of CSE earlier. The training informs staff of what to do if they think CSE is taking place in their premises and how to spot possible signs. Thames Valley Police will also provide similar training to fast-food premises and have contacted establishments in the Reading area to offer support. Further information from Thames Valley Police can be found on their website.

What is this telling us?

Child Sexual Exploitation cannot be dealt with solely by individual local authorities, police divisions or public health authorities each operating in their own silos. Offenders and victims cross administrative boundaries and so should the collective response of the Local Safeguarding Children's Board to safeguard the children of Reading.

What are the key inequalities?

Any child or young person may be at risk of sexual exploitation, regardless of their family background or other circumstances. However, there are strong links between children involved in sexual exploitation and other behaviours such as going missing from home or care, bullying, self-harm, teenage pregnancy, truancy and substance misuse. In addition, some children are particularly vulnerable, for example, children with special needs, those in residential or foster care, those leaving care, migrant children, unaccompanied asylum seeking children, and those involved in groups and/or gangs.

The Office of the Children's Commissioner (2012) outlined a list of key signs that may indicate that a child or young person is vulnerable to sexual exploitation. The Local Safeguarding Children Board's CSE Indicator Tool demonstrates a comprehensive list of indicators and is a tool to aid referrals to Children's Social Care.

The communities that residents live in, and the services and infrastructure that surround them, influence their everyday experience and quality of life. We know that there is a significant disparity of affluence and poverty across Reading's neighbourhoods and that this pattern has persisted for years. What is more sobering is that we are having little impact on narrowing the gap on a range of outcomes for people in these neighbourhoods. We also know that historically service quality and provision has tended to be greater in more affluent areas of the Borough, from provision of health services to the quality of open-space. This need not necessarily be the case.

There is also an increasing evidence base that some of the most transformative services for vulnerable groups are developed and delivered within local communities themselves and through grassroots-led approaches. Potentially a key element in securing better outcomes and more sustainable communities is to transform the way in which we work with local people.

Action involves

  • 'Turnaround Families': Reconfiguration of family support services to better meet the needs of vulnerable families in particular.

  • Working Better with you: development of new approaches to working with residents and communities.  Including a pilot project with the support of the Local Government Association to look at new models of neighbourhood working.

  • Workforce development to better understand and respond to the impacts of poverty across different services and agencies, including models of community led change.

  • Building on our Thriving Neighbourhoods work to target capacity and resources at our more deprived neighbourhoods and to develop more integrated working in these localities.

What are the unmet needs/ service gaps?

Reading LSCB has a CSE strategy in place. The partnership is committed to:


Child Sexual Exploitation takes place within our community. We must raise awareness and understanding of CSE in order to prevent children from becoming victims.


We will work together to identify children at risk of, or subject to sexual exploitation, so that we can safeguard and support them and prevent further harm. It is important that professionals, public, families and children understand the many forms of CSE so that they are better able to protect children and not miss signs.

Pursue and Disrupt:

We will work together to assist in bringing offenders to justice and disrupt behaviour, whilst ensuring that children and young people are not subject to further risk and harm


We will ensure that victims of CSE are provided with the necessary support to aid their recovery. This support needs to be delivered in such a way that we do the right thing, in the right way and at the right time to aid their recovery. Recovery should also include the provision of services to enable them to reach their potential and reduce the likelihood of needing support services in the future.

The CSE strategy contains an action plan to deliver on the above.

This section links to the following sections in the JSNA:

Safeguarding children

Sexual Health

Children & Adolescent Mental Health




Berelowitz, S. et al., 2013. "If only someone had listened" The Office of the Children's Commissioner's Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups Final Report. London: Office of the Children's Commissioner.

Children's Society, The, 2015. Old enough to know better? Why sexually exploited older teenagers are being overlooked. [Online]. Available at:

Department of Communities and Local Government, 2015. Reflections on child sexual exploitation

A report by Louise Casey CB. [Online]. Available at:

Department of Health, 2009. Healthy lives, brighter futures: The strategy for children and young people's health. [Online]. Available at:

HM Government, 2012. Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation. [Online]. 

HM Government, 2015a. Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation. [Online]. Available at:

HM Government, 2015b. Working together to safeguard children. [Online]. Available at:

Jay, A., 2013; Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham (1997-2013). [Online]. Available at:

Reading Local Safeguarding Children's Board, 2015. A Strategy to Safeguard Children and Young People at Risk of or Experiencing Sexual Exploitation in Reading 2014 - 2017. [Online]. Available at:

Reading Local Safeguarding Children's Board, 2015. Child Sexual Exploitation Risk Assessment Toolkit. [Online]. Available at:

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