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This practice guidance explains how partner agencies and organisations should work together to safeguard children and young people at risk from sexual and criminal exploitation. It is based on the Child Sexual Exploitation: Definition and Guide for Practitioners (DfE, 2017) and Criminal Exploitation of Children and Vulnerable Adults: County Lines (Home Office) and the following documents and links:

This guidance provides information about child sexual exploitation and criminal exploitation, the key principles which inform effective practice, the roles and responsibilities of relevant agencies, processes and practice in prevention, protection and prosecution and disruption plus the procedures that practitioners should follow to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people who are being sexually or criminally exploited (or who are at risk of being exploited).

This guidance should help local partner agencies and organisations to:

  • Identify children and young people at risk of being sexually and/or criminally exploited;
  • Take action to safeguard and promote the welfare of particular children and young people who are being, or at risk of being, exploited; and
  • Develop local prevention, intervention and disruption strategies.

Hull Children Young People and Family Service has established a CSE and CCE specialist Team- The Vulnerable, Exploited, Missing and Trafficked Team ( VEMT), consisting of a Team Manager, VEMT Co-ordinator, a specialist Social Worker, a Team Co-ordinator and a Youth Worker, who are located at Kenworthy House with a second location with the Humberside Police CSE Team. The VEMT Team offer support to children and their families where there is a risk of exploitation, and to practitioners working with them. This includes direct preventative work with the children and, where required, with their parents/carers. They support and advise practitioners who have completed and submitted a Risk Indicator Tool (RIT) to Pre MACE or MACE. They also support with Section 47 investigations where exploitation is suspected.

Child Sexual Exploitation


The 2017 DfE publication Child Sexual Exploitation: Definition and Guide for Practitioners defines Child Sexual Exploitation as follows:

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.”

Children who are sexually exploited should be treated as the victims of child sexual abuse and their needs carefully assessed. They are likely to be in need of welfare services and in many cases protection under the Children Act 1989.

Child Sexual Exploitation can also include children who have been sexually abused through the misuse of technology (see Online Safety Safeguarding Practice Guidance), coerced into sexual activity by criminal gangs or the victims of trafficking (see Modern Slavery and Child Trafficking Safeguarding Practice Guidance).

Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children in this context, depends on effective joint working between different agencies and practitioners. Their full involvement is vital if children are to be effectively supported and action is to be taken against perpetrators of sexual exploitation. Everyone should be alert to the risks of sexual exploitation and be able to take action and work together when an issue is identified.


Any child may be at risk of sexual exploitation, regardless of their family background or other circumstances.

Sexual exploitation results in children suffering harm, and causes significant damage to their physical and mental health. It can also have profound and damaging consequences for the child’s family. Parents and carers are often traumatised and under severe stress. Siblings can feel alienated and their self-esteem can be affected. Family members can themselves suffer serious threats of abuse, intimidation and assault at the hands of perpetrators.

There are strong links between children involved in sexual exploitation and other behaviours such as:

In addition, some children are particularly vulnerable, this includes:

All practitioners and foster carers should create an environment which educates children about child sexual exploitation, involving relevant outside agencies where appropriate. They should encourage children to discuss any concerns with them, or with someone from a specialist child sexual exploitation project. In Hull this is the Care (Children at Risk of Exploitation) Project which is part of Cornerhouse. Children should also be encouraged to share any such concerns about their friends.

It is often presumed that children are sexually exploited by people they do not know, however evidence shows that this is not the case, and children are often sexually exploited by people with whom they feel they have a relationship, e.g. a boyfriend / girlfriend. Children are often persuaded that the boyfriend / girlfriend is their only true form of support and encouraged to withdraw from their friends and family and to place their trust only within the relationship.

Many children are groomed into sexually exploitative relationships but other forms of entry exist. Some children are engaged in informal economies that incorporate the exchange of sex for rewards such as drugs, alcohol, money or gifts. Others exchange sex for accommodation or money as a result of homelessness and experiences of poverty. Some children have been bullied, coerced and threatened into sexual activities by peers or gang members which is then used against them as a form of extortion and to keep them compliant.

Due to the nature of the grooming methods used by their abusers, it is very common for children who are sexually exploited not to recognise that they are being abused. Practitioners should be particularly aware that young people aged 16 and 17 may believe themselves to be acting voluntarily and will need practitioners to work with them so they can recognise that they are in fact being sexually exploited. This is not an issue, which affects only girls and young women, boys and young men are also exploited. However, they often may experience other barriers to disclosure.

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It can take many forms from the seemingly ‘consensual’ relationship where sex is exchanged for attention, accommodation or gifts, to serious organised crime and child trafficking.

What marks out exploitation is an imbalance of power within the relationship. The perpetrator always holds some kind of power over the victim, increasing the dependence of the victim as the exploitative relationship develops.

Technology such as mobile phones or social networking sites, can play a part in sexual exploitation, e.g. through their use to record abuse and share it with other like-minded individuals or as a medium to access children in order to groom them.

Sexual exploitation has strong links with other forms of crime, e.g. domestic abuse, online and offline grooming, the distribution of abusive images of children, child criminal exploitation and child trafficking.

The perpetrators of sexual exploitation are often well organised and use sophisticated tactics. They are known to target areas where children gather without much adult supervision, e.g. parks, takeaway outlets, shopping centres, parks or sites on the Internet.


This extract from The Office of the Commissioner for Children (OCC) Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups (2012) helps to consider issues around consent.

"The law not only sets down 16 as the age of consent, it also applies to whether a person has given their consent to sexual activity, or was able to give their consent, or whether sexual violence and rape in particular took place. In the context of child sexual exploitation, the term 'consent' refers to whether or not a child understands how one gives consent, withdraws consent and what situations (such as intoxication, duress, violence) can compromise the child or young person's ability to consent freely to sexual activity."

Practitioners must also consider other factors which might influence the ability of the person to give consent, e.g. learning disability / mental ill health. Young people under the age of 16 cannot legally consent to sexual activity. Sexual intercourse with children under the age of 13 is statutory rape. A child under 18 cannot consent to their own abuse through exploitation.


Anyone who has regular contact with children is in a good position to notice changes in behaviour and / or physical presentation that may indicate involvement in sexual exploitation.

Parents/carers and anyone in a position of responsibility with a child should know how to monitor online activity and be prepared to - monitor computer usage where they are suspicious that a child is being groomed online.

The fact that a child is 16 or 17 years old should not be taken as a sign they are no longer at risk of sexual exploitation.

Children with a disability may have increased vulnerability as well as young people up to the age of 21 who were looked after for whom the local authority has statutory care leaver responsibility and / or where there may be child in need and/or child protection issues.

Barnardo's 'Puppet on a String' report 2011 sets out three different models of activity in the spectrum of sexual exploitation:

Inappropriate relationships The abuser has power which is physical, emotional or financial, or control over a young person. The young person may believe they are in a genuine friendship or relationship with the abuser. The abuse can exist in isolation in that the individual perpetrates the abuse or can involve the young person being introduced and abused by other people.

'Boyfriend/Girlfriend' model of exploitation and peer exploitation

The ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’ grooms the victim by striking up a seemingly loving relationship with them, giving them gifts and going out. Victims may be required to attend parties and have sex with multiple men or women, threatened with violence either to themselves or their loved ones if they don’t. They may also be made to introduce their friends as new victims. Peer exploitation is where children are forced or coerced into sexual activity by peers and associates. Sometimes this can be associated with gang activity, but not always.

Organised / networked sexual exploitation or trafficking


Children (often connected) are passed through networks, possibly over geographical distances, between towns and cities where they may be forced / coerced into sexual activity with multiple men. Often this occurs in 'sex parties', and children who are involved may be used as agents to recruit others into the network. Some of this activity is described as serious organised crime and can involve the organised 'buying and selling' of children by perpetrators.

Practitioners should receive training on child sexual exploitation, and therefore be aware of the key indicators of child sexual exploitation. The list below is not exhaustive but they include:


Technology is widely used by perpetrators as a method of grooming and coercing their victims, often through social networking sites and mobile devices such as smartphones. The perpetrator will groom the child/young person online, and may identify themselves as a young person of a similar age. The perpetrator may communicate with the child via a web cam, attempting to strike up a relationship which may then progress to asking the child/young person to send indecent images of themselves. The perpetrator may then start to pressurise the child/young person and blackmail them by threatening to tell their parents or share the images. This form of abuse usually occurs in private, or in semi-public places such as parks, cinemas, cafes and hotels. It is increasingly occurring at ‘parties’ organised by the perpetrators for the purpose of giving victims drugs and alcohol before sexually abusing them.

The use of media and technology is now a common feature of the social activity of most young people. A perpetrator’s first contact with a child is often online and sexual exploitation online can take the following forms:

  • Grooming children online for the purpose of sexually abusing them. This might involve an adult pretending to be a child, befriending the child through online chat rooms, social networking websites, email, mobile telephone messaging, gaining their trust, stalking their online activities;
  • Asking children to participate in non-contact sexual activities such as engaging in sexual conversations online or via mobile telephone;
  • Asking children to take and share indecent images of themselves online or through a mobile telephone;
  • Asking children to display sexualised behaviours or perform sexual acts that are recorded or shared live via webcam;
  • The creation, storage and distribution of child abuse images (also referred to as indecent images);
  • Arranging to meet a child in person for the purpose of sexually abusing them.

With effect from 29 June 2021, section 69 Domestic Abuse Act 2021 expanded so-called ‘revenge porn’ to include threats to disclose private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress.

Specific risks associated with computers and mobile/smart phones

  • Spending increasing amount of time on social networking sites (e.g. Facebook);
  • Accessing dating agencies via mobile phones;
  • Unexplained increased mobile phone/gaming credit;
  • New contacts with people outside of town;
  • Spending increasing amount of time with online friends and less time with friends from school or community;
  • Increased time on webcam especially if in bedroom;
  • Going online during the night;
  • Being secretive using mobile phone for accessing social networking, more than their computer;
  • Unwilling to share/show online contacts;
  • Concerns that a young person’s online friendship has developed into an offline relationship;
  • Concern that inappropriate images of a child or young person are being circulated via the internet/phones;
  • Arranging to meet people they have met online;
  • Exchanging inappropriate images in exchange for gaining knowledge/phone and gaining credits;
  • Receiving gifts through the post from someone the young person doesn’t know;
  • Concern that a young person is having an online relationship;
  • Concern that a young person is being coerced to provide images;
  • Sharing of inappropriate images amongst friends;
  • Concerned that a young person is being bribed by someone for the inappropriate online activity;
  • Concern that a young person is selling images via the internet for money;
  • Concern that a young person is being drawn into providing increasingly provocative/sexualised images in exchange for payment;
  • Negotiating a price for sexual activity/images;
  • Concern that a young person is selling sexual services via the internet;
  • Being bullied/threatened/pressured.

Health Indicators

  • Physical symptoms (bruising suggestive of either physical or sexual assault);
  • Chronic fatigue;
  • Recurring or multiple sexually transmitted infections;
  • Pregnancy and/or seeking an abortion;
  • Evidence of substance misuse.

Education Indicators

  • Truancy/disengagement with education or considerable change in performance at school.

Emotional and Behavioural Issues

  • Volatile behaviour exhibiting extreme array of mood swings or use of abusive language;
  • Involvement in petty crime such as shoplifting, stealing;
  • Secretive behaviour;
  • Entering or leaving vehicles driven by unknown adults;
  • Reports of being seen in places known to be used for sexual exploitation.


  • Low self-image, low self-esteem, self-harming behaviour, e.g. cutting, overdosing or eating disorder.


  • Hostility in relationships with practitioners, family members, carers and significant others;
  • Physical aggression;
  • Placement breakdown;
  • Reports from reliable sources (e.g. family, friends or other practitioners) suggesting the likelihood of involvement in sexual exploitation;
  • Detachment from age-appropriate activities;
  • Associating with other children who are known to be sexually exploited;
  • In a sexual relationship with a significantly older person, or younger person who is suspected of being abusive;
  • Unexplained relationships with older adults;
  • Possible inappropriate use of the internet and forming relationships, particularly with adults, via the internet;
  • Excessive receipt of text messages or phone calls;
  • Adults or older youths loitering outside the home;
  • Persistently missing, staying out overnight or returning late with no plausible explanation;
  • Returning after having been missing, looking well cared for in spite of having no known home base;
  • Missing for long periods, with no known home base;
  • Going missing and being found in areas where they have no known links.

Please note: Whilst the focus is often on older men as perpetrators, younger men and women may also be involved and practitioners should be aware of this possibility.

Social Presentation

  • Change in appearance;
  • Going out dressed in clothing unusual for them (inappropriate for age, borrowing clothing from older children).

Family and Environmental Factors

  • History of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse; neglect; domestic abuse; parental difficulties.


  • Pattern of previous street homelessness;
  • Having keys to premises other than those known about.


  • Possession of large amounts of money with no plausible explanation;
  • Acquisition of expensive clothes, mobile phones or other possessions without plausible explanation;
  • Accounts of social activities with no plausible explanation of the source of necessary funding.

This is not an exhaustive list and each indicator is not in itself proof of involvement or predictive of future involvement in sexual exploitation, but they should give rise to considering whether an assessment of the child is required to determine their needs and whether they are or are likely to be suffering harm.

Anyone who is in possession of information that may lead to the identification of victims or perpetrators e.g. vehicle registration numbers, names, physical descriptions should share this with the Police Protecting Vulnerable People Unit.

Practitioners should be aware that many children who are sexually exploited do not see themselves as victims. In such situations, discussions with them about concerns should be handled with great sensitivity. Seeking prior advice from specialist agencies may be useful. This can be done without disclosing personal, identifiable information at this stage, unless the practitioner has the consent of the child to do so.

In assessing whether a child is a victim of sexual exploitation, or at risk, careful consideration should be given to the issue of consent. It is important to bear in mind that:

  • A child under the age of 13 is not legally capable of consenting to sex (it is statutory rape) or any other type of sexual touching;
  • Sexual activity with a child under 16 is also an offence;
  • It is an offence for a person to have a sexual relationship with a 16 or 17 year old if they hold a position of trust or authority in relation to them;
  • Where sexual activity with a 16 or 17 year old does not result in an offence being committed, it may still result in harm, or the likelihood of harm being suffered;
  • Non-consensual sex is rape whatever the age of the victim; and
  • If the victim is incapacitated through drink or drugs, or the victim or their family has been subject to violence or the threat of it, they cannot be considered to have given true consent; therefore offences may have been committed;
  • Child sexual exploitation is potentially a child protection issue for all children under the age of 18 years and not just those in a specific age group.

Child Criminal Exploitation

Purpose of the Procedure

  • To provide clear local guidance on the process in relation to children who are at risk of Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE), or who are currently being exploited. A child is defined as anyone who has not yet reached their 18th birthday;
  • To ensure that a coordinated approach is taken across all agencies when considering the risk level of children who may be criminally exploited;.
  • To ensure that there is an effective strategy in place to manage and reduce the risk to these vulnerable children that this response is tailored to their agreed level of risk and that roles and responsibilities within this are identified and clearly defined;
  • To promote information sharing across all agencies and a joined up approach to risk reduction; and
  • To provide appropriate management oversight of these vulnerable children.


There is no legal definition of child criminal exploitation (CCE) through organised crime groups in England and Wales.

For Hull, the criminal exploitation of children and young people under-18 is defined as:

…where gangs target vulnerable children to get them to carry out criminal activity. County line gangs get children to deliver drugs around the country by using intimidation, debt bondage, violence and/or grooming. Gangs utilise children because they are cheaper, more easily controlled and less likely to get picked up by the Police. The fact that children are sent to different locations within the United Kingdom to carry out tasks for the gangs means that this type of CCE falls within the legal definition of trafficking in the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

The child (or a third person or persons) receive ‘something’ (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of them completing a task on behalf of another individual or group of individuals; this is often of a criminal nature. Child criminal exploitation often occurs without the child’s immediate recognition, with the child believing that they are in control of the situation. 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/economical and/or emotional vulnerability.

The criminal exploitation of children includes a combination of:

  • Pull factors: children performing tasks for others resulting in them gaining accommodation, food, gifts, status or a sense of safety, money or drugs; often the hook is through the perpetrator supplying Class B drugs such as cannabis to the child or young person;
  • Push factors: children escaping from situations where their needs are neglected and there is exposure to unsafe individuals, where there is high family conflict or the absence of a primary attachment figure;
  • Control: Brain washing, violence and threats of violence by those exploiting the child particularly when the child or young person is identified by the Police, they are expected to take full responsibility for the offences for which they are charged – i.e. possession and supply of illegal substances.

CCE is a complex form of abuse and it can be difficult for those working with children to identify and assess. The indicators for CCE can sometimes be mistaken for ‘normal adolescent behaviours’. It requires knowledge, skills, professional curiosity and an assessment which analyses the risk factors and personal circumstances of individual children to ensure that the signs and symptoms are interpreted correctly and appropriate support is given.


A child or young person’s involvement in child criminal exploitation activity often leaves signs. A young person might exhibit these signs, either as a member or an associate of a gang or group dealing drugs. Any sudden changes in a young person’s lifestyle should be discussed with them.

Some indicators are:

  • Persistently going missing from school or home and/or being found out of area;
  • Unexplained acquisition of money, clothes or mobile phones;
  • Excessive receipt of texts/phone calls;
  • Relationships with controlling/ older individuals or groups;
  • Leaving home/care without explanation;
  • Suspicion of physical assault/unexplained injuries;
  • Parental concerns; and
  • Carrying weapons.

County Lines

County lines is the Police term for urban gangs supplying drugs to suburban areas and market and coastal towns using dedicated mobile phone lines or ‘deal lines’. It involves CCE as gangs use children and vulnerable people to move drugs and money. Gangs establish a base in the market location, typically by taking over the homes of local vulnerable adults by force or coercion in a practice referred to as ‘cuckooing’.

County lines is a major, cross cutting issue involving drugs, violence, gangs, safeguarding, criminal and sexual exploitation, modern slavery, and missing persons; and the response to tackle it involves the Police, the National Crime Agency, a wide range of government departments, local government agencies and voluntary and community sector organisations.

County lines activity and the associated violence, drug dealing and exploitation has a devastating impact on young people, vulnerable adults and local communities.


The law states that consent is only valid where they make a choice and have the freedom and capacity to make that choice. If a child feels they have no other meaningful choice, are under the influence of harmful substances or fearful of what might happen if they don’t comply (all of which are common features in cases of CCE) consent cannot legally be given whatever the age of the child. It is important to note that perpetrators of CCE may themselves be children who are criminally exploited and that the victims of CCE may also be at risk of becoming perpetrators.

Children Who Go Missing

A significant number of children who are being sexually and/or criminally exploited may go missing from home or care, and education. If a child does go missing, please see Children who Runaway / Go Missing from Home and Care Safeguarding Practice Guidance.

Independent Return Interviews with the child or young person can help in establishing why they went missing and the subsequent support that may be required, as well as preventing repeat incidents. Information gathered from return interviews can be used to inform the identification for Referral and Assessment of any child sexual and criminal exploitation cases. The Return interview form is completed as a document on Liquid Logic and reassigned to the VEMT team for finalising. This process allows the information to be checked for the child’s views and needs, and also any safeguarding concerns to be escalated.

The Vulnerable, Exploited, Missing and Trafficked Team (VEMT) work closely with the Police and receive notifications on a daily basis as to who has been reported missing and found. Missing children and found children (where there are concerns following the safe and well check), are discussed at a daily tasking meeting (DTM) which is multi-agency and also includes the duty inspector from the Police. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the missing children, share information and concerns and to identify other contacts and addresses that the Police can visit in order to find the missing child. The DTM is chaired by the Team Manager or VEMT Co-ordinator and actions can be given to all services in order to formulate a plan in order to safeguard the child.

Protection and Action to be Taken

Hull Safeguarding Children's Partnership multi-agency response to tackling sexual and criminal exploitation is grounded in the following key principles:

  • A child-centred approach. Action is focused upon the child’s needs – practitioners should be aware that children do not always acknowledge what may be an exploitative and abusive situation;
  • A proactive approach. This is focused upon prevention, early identification and intervention, as well as disrupting activity and prosecuting perpetrators;
  • Parenting, family life, and services. Taking account of family circumstances in deciding how best to safeguard and promote the welfare of children;
  • The rights of children. Children are entitled to be safeguarded from sexual exploitation just as agencies have duties in respect of safeguarding and promoting welfare;
  • Responsibility for criminal acts. The responsibility for the sexual exploitation of children lies with the abuser either the person who pays for sex, in some way, or the person who grooms the child and/or organises the exploitation. The focus of Police investigations and of prosecutions should be on those who coerce, exploit and abuse children;
  • An integrated approach. Sexual and criminal exploitation requires a three-pronged approach tackling prevention, protection and prosecution;
  • A shared responsibility. The need for effective joint working between different agencies and practitioners underpinned by a strong commitment from managers, a shared understanding of the problem of sexual and criminal exploitation and effective coordination by the Hull Safeguarding Children's Partnership.

When a child is identified as suffering or likely to suffer exploitation, a referral should be made to the EHaSH. All necessary action should be taken to safeguard the child. In extreme cases this may require the Police to utilise their powers under Section 46 of the Children Act 1989 and place the child under Police Protection. See Core Procedures for more information.

Multi Agency Child Exploitation (MACE) and Pre MACE Panels and Risk Indicator Tool (RIT)

MACE meetings identify victims and/or offenders in relation to CSE and CCE, offering added value solutions to the victim’s care plans and clearly identifying disruption and the criminal justice responses to tackle offenders. They are not care planning meetings and will not scrutinise individual Care Plans, neither will the panel analyse and reflect on the whole content of individual MACE assessments. The panels will instead consider activities that can be undertaken in addition to the victim’s care plan to further enhance and safeguard them. The MACE panels will scrutinise the tasks and actions for each individual discussed and review the progress and effectiveness of allocated actions, holding to account the individuals and agencies responsible for completing such tasks.

The MACE meetings have recently undergone review. The first half of the agenda will consist of young people at risk of CSE, the second half of the agenda will consist of young people at risk of CCE; any young people at risk of both will be discussed in the section of the meeting that has the most prevalent risk.

For each discussion the panel will assist in agreeing actions that will add value to the plan for the child, disrupt the behaviour/actions of suspects and review any action in relation to premises/areas of concern. The panel will be asked to make a decision on whether continued review at MACE is required and this decision will be recorded with a rationale. 

When considering the purpose of the MACE process the panel members are responsible for ensuring that adequate action is being taken to reduce or mitigate risk

Risk Indicator Tool (RIT)

The RIT - Risk Indicator Tool is to be used in all cases where there are concerns that a child or young person is at risk of or is experiencing exploitation. The RIT is available as a document on Liquid Logic and should be completed accordingly for timely submission and to allow for central data to be collated from the RIT forms that would help strategic understanding with regard to Hull’s CSE and CCE problem profile, it also provides evidence on the child or young person’s case record that the risk of exploitation has been considered and assessed.

The RIT should be developed alongside with, and be complimentary to, any other plan for the young person’s welfare or safeguarding. It is expected that the lead worker completing the RIT will have consulted with other agencies involved with the child in order to provide as much information as possible. The RIT should also have been put through gatekeeping via a Team Manager to allow for clear management oversight of the child’s safeguarding needs and risks.

Completing the RIT assists with understanding and allowing the exploration of some of the vulnerabilities and indicators present when a child or young person might be at risk of or experiencing sexual exploitation. Completing it also provides evidence to support any subsequent actions or interventions as implemented at the local MACE meeting.

Pre – MACE Screening

The Pre – MACE membership is intended to meet the requirements of both operational credibility and compliance with Working Together to Safeguard Children, i.e. a multi-agency panel including Police, Children's Social Care, Health and specialist voluntary CSE youth workers that can meaningfully contribute to the discussion. At the Pre – MACE meeting, all MACE assessments and RITs submitted will be scrutinised, the risk assessment reviewed and any further information held by agencies added and considered.

It is the responsibility of practitioners to update their RIT and return them within a given time frame. The panel will then make a determination as to whether enough information has been provided to make an informed decision. Following this determination the agenda and lists are confirmed and distributed to agencies for research and preparation for the MACE panel. If panel feels that the MACE assessment lacks adequate information, then it will be returned to the author with the requirement that identified gaps are filled. If they are unable to meet the deadline, then they are required to attend the meeting to present the case to allow decision making.

The Pre-MACE panel have developed clear eligibility criteria for decision making which is embedded and maintains continuity and consistency.

All Pre – MACE decision making is clearly recorded within the MACE RITs and all panel members have to be in agreement before the outcome is finalised.

The MACE panels will also present an opportunity for mapping and analysis of hotspots, victims, offenders and addresses that are currently considered the highest risk of CSE, to ensure appropriate intelligence is gathered and shared which informs decision making and future activities. The MACE panels produce a ‘task and action’ log for each individual discussed which sets out exactly what additional activities are to be undertaken to enhance the victim’s care plan and reduce the likelihood of further offending via appropriate offender disruption tactics. The task and action log is shared with the Lead Practitioner for the child victim or perpetrator to ensure that information is being appropriately shared.

The MACE panels are attended by relevant practitioners who can assist in the planning process and in formulating a protection plan. Agencies share information and intelligence in order to ensure a two-fold response, i.e. provide a safety plan for the child and disrupt the activity of perpetrators. Work is continuing to develop the process on a multi-agency basis and to ensure that engagement work with young people is prioritised in these areas.

The contribution of the voluntary sector at these panels is also vital, emphasised by the ongoing support and effort of the Hull Cornerhouse Project, who continue to help young people in Hull access support in relation to exploitation. This includes the provision of additional accommodation of a safe place for young people to talk to adults and be safe.

Additional Considerations

Working with exploited children is a complex issue which can involve serious crime and investigations over a wide geographical area. Children may be frightened of the consequences of disclosure and may need to be given time to discuss their experiences.

The need to share information discreetly in a timely fashion has been shown to be vital in these cases.

Agencies and practitioners involved with a child or young person experiencing child exploitation must consider disruption strategies which support the child or young person to leave the situation they find themselves in. ( Child Exploitation Disruption Toolkit, Home Office, 2017)

The prosecution and disruption of perpetrators is an essential part of the process in reducing harm. It is the responsibility of the Police to gather evidence, investigate and interview perpetrators and prepare case files for consideration by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) with the intention of obtaining the successful conviction of offenders.

Many child exploitation cases cross Police Force boundaries and therefore there should be cross boundary cooperation and information sharing. This may involve the National Crime Agency’s CEOP Command (formerly Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) who can support the Police by helping to coordinate cross-boundary or international investigations involving child sex offender networks or in the management of high risk offenders which may involve grooming through chat rooms and social networking sites or involvement with paedophile rings.

Supporting Children out of Child Sexual and Criminal Exploitation

Practitioners from statutory agencies and voluntary sector organisations together with the child, foster carers, and their family as appropriate, should agree on the services which should be provided to them and how they will be coordinated, this process can be greatly assisted with the support from the VEMT team. The types of intervention offered should be appropriate to their needs and should take full account of identified risk factors and their individual circumstances. This may include previous abuse, missing incidents, involvement in gangs and groups and/or child trafficking. Health services provided may include sexual health services and mental health services. Advice should be sought from the CARE Project which works with children involved in child sexual exploitation and a referral should be made as appropriate, if the child or young person is in agreement.

For children who are Looked After issues raised and actions planned should be incorporated into the child’s Care Plan and Placement Plan, and reviewed as part of the Looked After Child Review.

Owing to the fact that the effects of child exploitation can last well into adulthood, support may be required over a long period of time. In such circumstances, effective links should be made between children and adult services and statutory and voluntary organisations. For children who are Looked After, this should be incorporated into their Pathway Plan.

All practitioners working with children who have been exploited and their families should respond in ways that are:

  • Child-centred: recognising children and young people’s rights to participate in decisions about them in line with their maturity, and focusing on the needs of the child. Other considerations, such as the fear of damaging relationships with children or adults, get in the way of protecting children from abuse and neglect. Practitioners should view a referral as the beginning of a process of inquiry, not as an accusation. Victims may be resistant to intervention and some may maintain links with their abusers, even after attempts to help protect them;
  • Developed and informed by the involvement of a child’s family and carers wherever safe and appropriate: a holistic assessment will take account of the wishes and feelings of children and the views of their parents/carers;
  • Responsive and pro-active: everyone should be alert to the potential signs and indicators of child exploitation, as well as other forms of abuse, and exercise professional curiosity in their day to day work. It is better to help children and young people as early as possible, before issues escalate and become more damaging;
  • Relationship-based: practitioners should establish and maintain trusting relationships with children and young people, and continue to exercise professional curiosity and create safe spaces for disclosure.

Parents and carers can feel excluded in work with children and young people who are, or who are at risk of being exploited by perpetrators external to the family. Where assessment shows it is safe and appropriate to do so, parents and families should be regarded as a part of the solution. It is crucial to work with them not only to assess the risks of harm faced by the young person or child but to help them understand what the young person has experienced, the risks they face and how they can be supported and protected. The parents may need direct support and help to improve family relationships and keep their child safe.

Identifying and Prosecuting Perpetrators

Legally, neither boys nor girls under the age of 16 years can consent to sexual activity. Both boys and girls continue to fall within the scope of the Children Act 1989 until they reach the age of 18 years. For the purposes of this practice guidance any boy or girl under the age of 18 years involved in sexual exploitation will be considered a child in need and therefore will require assessment.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 introduced new offences to enable the Police to deal with those who coerce and abuse others through sexual exploitation. New offences to protect children up to the age of 18 include:

Under 13 Years of Age

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 now makes it clear that sexual activity with a child under 13 years is never acceptable and that, regardless of circumstances, children of this age can never legally give their consent.

Under 16 Years of Age

  • Meeting a child under 16 years following sexual grooming. This was strengthened by the Serious Crime Act (2015) it is now an offence for an adult to arrange to meet with someone under 16 for the purpose of committing a specified offence having communicated with them on just one occasion (previously it was on at least two occasions);
  • Arranging or facilitating a child sex offence – under 16 years;
  • Sexual activity with a child;
  • Causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity;
  • Engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child;
  • Causing a child to watch a sexual act.

The Serious Crime Act (2015) introduced an offence of sexual communication with a child. This applies to an adult who communicates with a child and the communication is sexual or if it is intended to elicit from the child a communication which is sexual and the adult reasonably believes the child to be under16 years of age.

Under 18 Years of Age

  • Taking indecent photographs of a child under 18 years;
  • Abuse of a child under 18 years through sexual exploitation or pornography;
  • The Sexual Offences Act 2003 covers offences involving an Abuse of a Position of Trust towards a child aged under 18 years.

The Police and criminal justice agencies lead on the identification and prosecution of perpetrators. All practitioners, however, have a role in gathering, recording and sharing information with the Police and other agencies, as appropriate and in agreement with them.

Practitioners and foster carers should bear in mind that sexual exploitation often does not occur in isolation and has links to other crime types, including:

  • Child trafficking (into, out of and within the UK);
  • Domestic Abuse;
  • Sexual violence in intimate relationships;
  • Grooming (both online and offline);
  • Abusive images of children and their distribution (organised abuse);
  • Organised sexual abuse of children;
  • Drugs-related offences (dealing, consuming and cultivating);
  • Gang-related activity;
  • Immigration-related offences;
  • Domestic servitude.

Disruption Measures

Child exploitation may be associated with other crimes, or perpetrators may be involved in other criminal activity. In these instances there are a number of civil measures that can be used to disrupt the activities of individuals also involved with child criminal exploitation, alongside criminal and civil processes that directly address offending and other child protection procedures.

The range of formal and informal disruption measures that may be used to help tackle child exploitation include:

  • Obtaining orders on an identified individual;
  • Investigation of other crime types such as drugs or theft;
  • Increased Police attention on an individual (checking car tax, road worthiness of car etc.);
  • Increased Police presence in suspected hotspots (online or offline);
  • Working with internet providers to address online risks; and
  • Use of licensing laws and powers to obtain guest information or close down premises associated with child exploitation.

Where applicable, an effective disruption strategy may use a range of these methods in conjunction with one another to address individual perpetrator behaviour, protect victims and address wider contexts of concern. In developing an effective disruption strategy, local partners including the Police and local authorities should work together to consider the full range of powers available. An effective disruption strategy will also involve work with children and young people to address the issues contributing to their vulnerability and to provide them with alternative options.

Civil Orders and Other Means of Controlling Individual Behaviour

Gang Injunction a gang injunction is a civil tool that allows the Police or a local authority to apply to the County Court, High Court or Youth Court for an injunction against an individual to prevent gang related violence and gang related drug dealing. By imposing a range of prohibitions and requirements on the respondent, a gang injunction aims to prevent the respondent from engaging in, or encouraging or assisting, gang related violence or gang related drug dealing activity and/or to protect the respondent from gang related violence or gang related drug dealing activity.

Child Abduction Warning Notices (CAWNs), formerly known as Harbourers’ Warnings. These can be issued by the Police and used with individuals over 18 to let them know (and record that they have been told) that they are not allowed to associate or contact with a named child (under 16, or under 18 if in care). CAWNs have no statutory basis in and of themselves, but are very useful in providing evidence to support the prosecution of other offences by, for example, registering that a suspect knew the child was 15, thereby taking away the age defence in criminal cases.

Sexual Harm Prevention Orders (SHPOs) can be applied for by the Police or the National Crime Agency. They can be used to impose restrictions on an individual who has been convicted or cautioned of a sexual or violent offence, where there is reasonable cause to believe that the imposition of such an order is necessary to protect an individual or the wider public from harm. Restrictions can include things like limiting their use, preventing them from approaching or being alone with a named child and prohibiting foreign travel. Breach of the order, without reasonable excuse, is an offence punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment.

Sexual Risk Orders (SROs) can also be applied for by the Police or the National Crime Agency. These are similar to Sexual Harm Prevention Orders, and can include similar restrictions, but do not require an individual to have been convicted or cautioned. SROs can be issued when an individual has carried out an act of a sexual nature and there is reasonable cause to believe that such an order is necessary to protect an individual or the wider public from harm. As with SHPOs, breach of the order is an offence punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment.

Both SHPOs and SROs may be used with children under 18, but recent Home Office guidance on Part 2 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 states that the following principles should apply when considering this:

  • The early consultation and participation of the youth offending team in the application process;
  • That 14 to 17 year olds made subject to civil injunctions in relation to harmful sexual behaviour are offered appropriate interventions to reduce their harmful behaviour;
  • That the nature and extent of that support is based on a structured assessment that takes into account the needs of the young person and the imminent risk;
  • That the welfare of the child or young person is the paramount consideration, in line with local safeguarding procedures;
  • That the requirements of all other orders and sentences that may already be in existence are taken into account to ensure that any requirements made by these orders do not restrict a young person’s ability to complete other current orders or sentences, and the combined burden of requirements is taken into account to ensure the young person has the capacity to comply (Home Office, 2015).

Where there are concerns that a child has been trafficked as part of the child sexual exploitation (this can include movement from one area to another within England), Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Orders (STPOs) and Slavery and Trafficking Risk Orders (STROs) can also be considered. STPOs and STROs can be applied for by the Police, the National Crime Agency or an immigration officer. These were introduced under the Modern Slavery Act (2015) and, like the SHPOs and SROs outlined above, offer a means of placing restrictions on an individual’s movements and actions. A STPO can only be made against an individual who has been convicted of a slavery or human trafficking offence, while a STRO can be made against an individual who has acted in a way which means that there is a risk that they will commit a slavery or human trafficking offence. Both require reasonable belief that the individual may commit a modern slavery offence in the future and that application of the order is necessary to protect an individual or the wider public from harm.

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is also an important mechanism in disrupting and identifying perpetrators of Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery. The NRM is a framework for identifying and safeguarding victims of human trafficking or modern slavery. The NRM applies to victims of both domestic and international trafficking and is designed to facilitate relevant multiagency involvement in trafficking and modern slavery cases, ensuring that the victim receives safe accommodation, appropriate protection, support and advice. Referrals to the NRM contribute to building evidence about trafficking and modern slavery, providing a national picture and informing policy decisions and practice actions in this area.

Notification Orders are intended to protect the public from the risks posed by sex offenders in the UK who have been convicted or cautioned for sexual offences which have been committed overseas. A Notification Order makes the offender subject to notification requirements in the same way as if they had been convicted in the UK for a sexual or violent offence.

Non-Molestation Orders are civil injunctions that can be issued to protect named children from abuse from an individual and any third party acting on the behalf of that individual. The order only applies to those individual(s) ‘associated’ with the child. It is an offence if the order is breached.

Exclusion Orders can be sought upon the application for an Interim Care Order or Emergency Protection Order. The order can be taken where there is reasonable cause to believe that if an individual is excluded from a dwelling, house or defined area in which the child lives, the child will cease to suffer, or cease to be likely to suffer, significant harm. The order cannot cover an unlimited area.

A Wardship is a civil injunction which can be used to prevent an ‘undesirable association’ between a child and an individual(s). A local authority can make a Wardship application to the High Court to make a named child a ward of court and to seek an injunction against a named individual(s) to prevent that person from making any contact with the child. An injunction can be used where there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is likely to suffer significant harm without the court’s intervention.

Supporting Children through Related Legal Proceedings

Where alleged perpetrators are arrested and charged with offences against children, allocated practitioners and foster carers should ensure they are supported throughout the prosecution process and beyond. Specialist agencies should be involved in supporting the child or young person, as required. This may include using special measures to protect them when giving evidence in court. Independent Sexual Violence Advisers or specialist voluntary sector services, if available, may also have an important role to play.

Further Information

What to do if you Suspect a Child is being Sexually Exploited - Step-by-Step Guide for Frontline Practitioners

Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse

Child Sexual Exploitation: Practice Tool (2017) (open access) - further background information about child sexual exploitation and additional commentary around some of the complexities of practically responding to the issue.

NSPCC Report Remove Tool - the tool enables young people under the age of 18 to report a nude image or video of themselves which has appeared online. The Internet Watch Foundation will review these reports and work to remove any content which breaks the law.

Responding to child sexual exploitation – College of Policing

Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) for the 21st Century, Brook, PSHE Association and Sex Education Forum, 2014

Child Criminal Exploitation, YJLC Legal Guide’ December 2020

Child Exploitation Disruption Toolkit ( Home Office)

Amendments to this Chapter

In January 2022 a link was added in Further Information to the NSPCC Report Remove Tool.

The tool enables young people under the age of 18 to report a nude image or video of themselves which has appeared online. The Internet Watch Foundation will review these reports and work to remove any content which breaks the law.