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Durham Constabulary is committed to preventing child sexual exploitation (CSE), 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 young people 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.

What signs are there that a child is being sexually exploited?

  • Repeatedly going missing particularly overnight
  • Coming home with unaccounted gifts, i.e. clothes, money, food, jewellery, drugs or mobile phone
  • Having a relationship with an older partner with whom there may or may not be concerns   
  • Mood swings and changes in behaviour
  • Excessive and secret use of internet and /or mobile phone (potential grooming)   
  • Having several SIM cards, frequent mobile phone top ups   
  • Being unusually secretive
  • Losing contact with family and friends of their own age and associating with an older age group 
  • Unrecognised cars arriving at the home, especially at strange times
  • Alcohol/substance misuse 
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Lacking self-esteem, leading to a change in personal appearance 
  • Excessive washing or bathing particularly when returning from missing episodes
  • Repeated sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy and terminations
  • Absent from school/deterioration in quality of school work
  • Self harm/thoughts or attempts at suicide
  • Poor mental health

 What makes a child more at risk of CSE?

  • Low self-esteem or self confidence
  • Living in a chaotic or dysfunctional household (including parental substance misuse, mental health issues, parental criminality)
  • Lack of friends in the same age group
  • Unsure about their sexual orientation or unable to disclose to their families
  • History of domestic abuse
  • History of neglect
  • History of familial child sexual abuse
  • Learning disabilities
  • Associating with young people who are sexually exploited
  • Have suffered a recent bereavement or loss
  • Homelessness
  • Living in residential care
  • Young carer 

Please remember that some children/young people show little or no signs, and some may display the indicators for other reasons.

Generally, a change of behaviour should make you question what is happening in the child/young persons life.

How can I get help or find out more?

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

Call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Young victims can report anonymously online at

Further help and support