Last Updated: Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Safeguarding - Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

What is this?

This resource provides a brief description of what is meant by the term child sexual exploitation (CSE) and provides guidance and support for senior leaders and practitioners.

Who is this for?

​This will be helpful for all practitioners working with children and young people but particularly senior leaders.

​Explore this resource

What is Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)?

In 2016, the Scottish Government published an amended definition of Child Sexual Exploitation: "Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse in which a person(s), of any age takes advantage of a power imbalance to force or entice a child into engaging in sexual activity in return for something received by the child and/or those perpetrating or facilitating the abuse. As with other forms of child sexual abuse, the presence of perceived consent does not undermine the abusive nature of the act.

The sexual exploitation of children and young people is an often hidden form of child sexual abuse, with distinctive elements of exploitation and exchange. In practice, the sexual exploitation of children and young people under 18 might involve young people being coerced, manipulated, forced or deceived into performing and/or performing on them, sexual activities in exchange for receiving some form of material goods or other entity (for example, food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, gifts, affection). Sexual exploitation can occur through the use of technology and without the child’s immediate recognition.

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 often common features, with involvement in exploitative relationships being characterised in the main by the child/young person’s limited availability of choice resulting from their social, economic and/or emotional vulnerability.

In some cases, the sexual activity may just take place between one young person and the perpetrator (whether an adult or peer). In other situations, a young person may be passed for sex between two or more perpetrators or this may be organised exploitation (often by criminal gangs or organised groups).

COVID-19 update and resources

Children may be more at risk of sexual harm than ever. They are isolated from traditional support networks and many are exposed to greater risks online or in their own homes. In response to this, Stop It Now Scotland has created an Upstream Prevention pack designed to help keep children safe, using the knowledge and experience we have gained over the past 12 years of working to keep children safe from harm.

  • Support for families - Leaflet on prevention services and resources we provide. Written for child protection professionals working directly with families where there is a risk of harm to children e.g. children and family’s social workers, teachers, third sector organisations etc.
  • Support for professionals - Information for professionals about our services, including case consultation to professionals and how to make a referral.
  • Support for individuals - This leaflet is aimed at individuals who are concerned about their own thoughts or feelings towards children. It details our support services and resources that are crucial towards achieving prevention.
  • What you need to know - Guide for parents and carers, including advice on what to do if they are worried about risk to a child.

CSE and the internet

There are specific risks associated with the internet in terms of child sexual exploitation, including:

  • Grooming children online for sexual abuse offline;
  • Children viewing abusive images of children/pornographic images;
  • Selling children online for abuse offline;
  • Making abusive images of children;
  • Viewing abusive images of children;
  • Access to chat lines via the internet or mobile phones;
  • Sexting.

Key CSE policies and documents

PDF file: National Action Plan to Prevent and Tackle Child Sexual Exploitation - 2016 update

  • The vision of the national action plan is that Scotland will be a place where sexual exploitation of children and young people is eliminated – a Scotland where children and young people are protected from harm and where society is a hostile place for perpetrators and facilitators of child sexual exploitation.

PDF file: National Action Plan on Internet Safety for Children and Young People 2017

  • The National Action Plan on Internet Safety for Children and Young People 2017 gives a legislative and policy context for internet safety. It gives feedback from young people on their views in this area and describes the current actions being taken across Scotland. It gives links to relevant guidance and helpful internet sites.

PDF file: Child Sexual Exploitation - Definition and practitioner briefing paper (152 KB)

  • This updated plan includes a CSE definition and a practitioner briefing paper. It sets the context for the CSE action plan, identifies outcomes and reports on progress to date.

The Upstream Project

  • Preventing child sexual abuse in Scotland - Upstream is an online resource that enables adults in Scotland to prevent child sexual abuse and to protect the next child. It has been developed by Stop it Now! Scotland with support from the Scottish Government.

How to use these resources to improve practice

Sexual exploitation is abuse and should be treated accordingly. Practitioners should be mindful that a ‘dual approach’ is key in tackling CSE - whilst a young person must be both engaged with and supported, there must also be a focus on proactive investigation and prosecution of those involved in sexually exploiting the young person. Staff have a responsibility to follow local child protection procedures for reporting and sharing these concerns.

When undertaking an assessment around child sexual exploitation, practitioners should include consideration of the risks that are posed to the child or young person through the internet, and those that are posed by the child or young person to other children or young people.

Within education, there is a key focus on safeguarding and child protection. All school and early years establishments are supported to evaluate and improve their practice in relation to safeguarding and child protection including CSE, through How good is our school? (fourth edition) and How good is our early learning and childcare? Education practitioners should also work with key community partners and agencies to understand these complex issues and to develop confidence in responding to any concerns they have.

Learning and teaching resources

Relationships, sexual health and parenthood (RSHP) is a resource for teaching across all the levels of Curriculum for Excellence linked to relationships, sexual health and parenthood (RSHP) education for children and young people.


Thinkuknow is an education programme produced by the National Crime Agency’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) Command which provides resources, training and support for professionals who work directly with children and young people.

It consists of films, learning activities and other resources which have been developed in response to intelligence from child protection experts within the CEOP Command.

The resources are designed to help children and young people keep themselves safe from sexual abuse and exploitation by developing skills in identifying and avoiding risk, learning how best to protect themselves and their friends, and knowing how to get support and report abuse if they do encounter difficulties.

The Making of a Bad Romance: A live Snapchat story

This 2-minute film shows a young girl’s snapchat story as she is groomed by a male. It finishes with the tagline ‘Spot the signs you’re being groomed before things go too far’. It could be used to improve the awareness of young people and open up discussion around CSE.

Real Love Rocks

The Hub is an online membership space for those professionals working with children and young people about Healthy Relationships, Keeping Safe and Child Sexual Exploitation. The Hub is free to join. This page also links to the Real Love Rocks resources produced by Barnardo’s. The Real Love Rocks Resources are about helping all children and young people to think and chat about relationships, what they are, and how to keep happy and safe in them, whether that’s now or in the future.

Fearless​ provides a range of activities on different crime types that you can use to challenge young people's perceptions, stimulate debate and encourage safe choices. It includes a pdf download and Power Point presentation.


The Upstream Project provides resources to support practitioners teaching children and young people about the prevention of child sexual abuse.

​Who can help?

Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) command

The National Crime Agency’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) command provides an online service to 'report abuse'.

CSE the signs




Together Scotland

Stop it now!

Improvement questions

The following questions can be used to identify areas for improvement:

  • To what extent are staff aware of the nature of child sexual exploitation, including the specific risks posed by the internet?
  • Do we have robust safeguarding and child protection procedures in place which take account of child sexual exploitation?
  • Do we work with multi-agency partners to identify and respond to potential and actual harm?
  • How well do we help our children and young people to know the warning signs of CSE, to know how to protect themselves and to be aware of ways to access help?