Child sexual exploitation


In recent years the term ‘Child Sexual Exploitation’ has been talked about in local and national media but what does this mean, who is at risk and what is being done about it?


Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) refers to any child under the age of 18 and is a form of child abuse. It is a broad and complex area of abuse that involves children and young people being targeted and abused by adults or peers for sexual purposes. Victims and perpetrators can be male or female and any child can be at risk of exploitation.

Child Sexual Exploitation is an under reported crime and it is widely accepted that there are difficulties in securing a conviction as many victims do not understand that they are being abused.

"Any young person who has a mobile phone and access to the internet is at risk of sexual exploitation," warns Mandy MacDonald, Derby City Council's Child Protection Manager, "It's not just children in care."

The only way to crack down on sexual exploitation of children is for everyone to be aware of the problem and for every person in Derby to be aware and alert to the potential dangers.

The first prosecutions for Child Sexual Exploitation in Derby took place in 2010, a case known as Operation Retriever which involved 13 defendants who had worked together. They were jailed in total for up to 22 years for 70 offences. A second case, known as Operation KERN, tracked down and secured the successful prosecution of 12 men, who had operated independently of each other.

Child Sexual Exploitation is a form of child abuse. Perpetrators of this type of abuse go to great lengths to target and abuse children.

Mandy MacDonald explains "In the way that young people are groomed, it can be very difficult to support them because they can be either in fear of, or think they are in love with, the perpetrators... it was obvious that all the victims in the latest prosecution 'hated' what they were doing but at the same time said the men had treated them 'really nicely'."

There can be a combination of factors that would make a child vulnerable and more at risk of being groomed.

Mandy MacDonald explains; "I see young people with attachment problems, desperate to be loved and liked. You get this with people in care but also people who live at home, I see a lot of young people who have bereavements or a significant loss in their past that hasn't been dealt with. It creates a void that perpetrators can easily manipulate."

"Adolescent behaviour can create an opportunity for exploitation such as experimenting with drugs and alcohol, staying out late and it can become easy for someone to manipulate that adolescent phase, where the young people are more naive and feel invincible."


The Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre published its thematic assessment in June 2011 with the aim of identifying what is currently known about CSE and make recommendations for tackling this form of abuse.

The report talks about common findings among victims of this abuse and it states: "victims frequently do not recognise that they are being exploited and do not disclose abuse."

The report also details some commonalities among offenders: "Many of the detailed cases submitted to CEOP showed that grooming is used to manipulate victims, distance them from families and friends, and place them under the control of the offender. Offenders will often use flattery and attention to persuade victims to view them as a ‘boyfriend’."

Warning signs to consider:

  • Having an older boyfriend/girlfriend
  • Having unaccounted for money or items
  • Signs of underage sex such as sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy
  • Disclosure of serious sexual assault and then withdrawing the allegation
  • Regularly coming home late
  • Going missing from school, home or care home
  • Not attending school or being excluded
  • Being taken to nightclubs and hotels by adults
  • Being friendly with adults or suddenly changing peer groups
  • Chatting to or exchanging pictures with strangers online
  • Experimenting with drugs and or alcohol
  • Changes in behaviour that are out of character
  • Hostility in relationships with family members or other carers
  • Secrecy
  • Repeat offending
  • Being a gang member or associating with gangs
  • Illness that cannot be explained
  • Poor self image, eating disorders, self harm


Since Operation Retriever was in court, we, together with our partners have led the way locally and nationally to improve early interventions and the detection of children who may be at risk of exploitation.

Mandy MacDonald explains, "Derby is no different from any other city - it's happening everywhere. However, Derby is now meeting and exceeding all the criteria in the national action plan for dealing with child sexual exploitation."

Derby Safeguarding Children Board (DSCB) has a multi-agency strategy to combat the sexual exploitation of children in Derby. 

Local agencies in Derby work together to identify and protect young people at risk:

  • In 2011, the Council appointed a Child Protection Manager with specific responsibility for ensuring all agencies provide a co-ordinated support package to those at risk of, or identified as, being sexually exploited.
  • DSCB has been active in co-ordinating a multi-agency response to concerns around sexual exploitation, with a sub-group of the Board that focuses on this issue making sure what can be done, is being done.
  • Our Children and Young People directorate is a member of the National working group and the national research forum hosted by Barnardo's and Bedfordshire University.
  • Prevention work is key to early intervention with those at risk of CSE. 
  • The Derby Safeguarding Board provide funding for Safe and Sound Derby to raise awareness within Derby.
  • Work across the agencies is co-ordinated.
  • Training has been provided for over 2,500 front-line staff across the city and is continuing.
  • Our Children and Young People directorate work closely with the Police and other agencies to gather information on alleged offenders and disrupt their activity.
  • Extended the work to ensure that there is social and corporate responsibility in identifying and sharing information on CSE. Such as the national hotels campaign "say something if you see something" being co-ordinated by the NSPCC.
  • All staff, from teachers to children's home workers, have been trained in spotting the signs.

We are often asked why we can't 'just lock up' young people to keep them safe. The answer is, whilst it is possible to put a young person who is being sexually exploited in a secure unit for his or her own protection, after an application has been agreed by a judge; to promote lasting change, it is necessary to engage with the young person to protect them.

Mandy explains: "You are dealing with a teenager and they have rights, it is a really punitive measure to lock up a child who is already a victim of abuse. They won't engage with you or tell you anything ever again, because they feel they have been victimised if you put them in secure accommodation."

Derby is doing very good preventative work. But you can never do enough. Society needs to be involved - family, friends and neighbours.

If you suspect that a young person is being groomed or sexually exploited in Derby, call any of the numbers below:

  • Local Authority Duty Number: 01332 641172
  • Police: 0345 123 3333 or in an emergency 999
  • Safe and Sound: 01332 362120

Further information

First Contact Team (Social Care) 01332 641172
Derby Careline (Out of office hours) 01332 786968
Child Protection Manager CSE 01332 717818
Derbyshire Police Emergency 999
Non-emergency 101
Child Exploitation Investigation Unit (Police) 01773 572713
Police Central Referral Unit 01773 573606
Gangs Team 01773 256918
Sexual Assault Referral Centre 01733 573840/1
Safe and Sound Derby 01332 362120
Family Justice Centre 01332 256897
Derbyshire Friend
(Lesbian and Gay Helpline)
01332 207704
Victim Support 01332 349 956

National Sources of Support

NSPCC Child Protection Helpline 0808 800 5000
Childline 0800 1111
Missing People Helpline 0808 800 7070
Rape and Abuse Line 0808 800 0123 (answered by women every evening)
NHS Direct Health Advice 0845 46 47

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