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Child sexual exploitation

This page shows a summary of key facts about child sexual exploitation and what we are doing about it in Merton. For more information, graphs and tables, you can download a more detailed factsheet:

Key facts on child sexual exploitation

The Department for Education defines child sexual exploitation (CSE) as a form of child abuse [which] involves children and young people receiving something - for example, accommodation, drugs, gifts, or affection - as a result of them performing sexual activities, or having others perform sexual activities on them. Underpinning this are exploitative relationships characterised … by fear, deception, coercion and violence. 1

CSE can take many different forms, including the exploitation of boys and young men, and may be intra- or inter-familial, within a community, or carried out by people that the young person feels they have a relationship with, as well as by those less well known to them.

CSE has a significant impact on the short and longer term physical, emotional and mental health of children, including self harm, attempted suicide, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, or injuries, as well as other outcomes such as educational attainment.

Risk factors for CSE

Understanding patterns of exploitation and how best to respond is crucial in ensuring that every victim is identified and safeguarded.2The Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups (CSEGG) identified 11 indicators of CSE risk in children aged 10+ that can be measured using education, police or other public service datasets, to identify children at risk locally:3

  • Child in Need or Children Looked After
  • Children persistently absent from education
  • Children permanently excluded from school
  • Children misusing drugs and/or alcohol
  • Children engaged in offending
  • Children reported missing, or Children reported to be ‘absconding’ or ‘breaching’
  • Children reported as victims of rape
  • Children lacking friends of similar age
  • Children putting their health at risk
  • Children displaying sexually inappropriate behaviour
  • Children who are self-harming or showing suicidal intent.

Nationally, the CSEGG Inquiry found that at least 16,500 children were at risk of CSE in England in one year, and 2,409 children were confirmed victims of sexual exploitation in gangs and groups during the 14-month period from August 2010 to October 2011. However, there is likely to be significant underreporting.

Other factors that have been linked to an increase in vulnerability to CSE include socioeconomic disadvantage; disrupted family life, domestic violence, and/or history of physical or sexual abuse; problematic parenting; parental drug or alcohol misuse or mental health problems; involvement in gangs; poor mental health, and learning disabilities.234

The CSEGG Inquiry summarised the following about CSE in England:

  • Perpetrators and victims are ethnically diverse and come from all social backgrounds.
  • Perpetrators sometimes operate within highly restricted areas, such as their immediate neighbourhood; others are moving children significant distances. Abuse takes place in private houses, warehouses, public spaces, schools, hotels and hostels.
  • Some groups of abusers are linked to extended or immediate family of some of the victims, with some overlap with intra-familial abuse. There are clear differences as well as some overlaps between group associated and gang associated CSE.
  • Young men and boys as well as adults are involved in perpetrating CSE and abuse.
  • There are potential biases in the way that CSE is identified which means agencies are more likely to identify victims who are girls than boys, who are white than from an ethnic minority, and who are already known to children’s services.

Perpetrators and routes into sexual exploitation

Far less is known about the individual characteristics of perpetrators than is known about their victims. More is known about gang members, probably because they are known by professionals for reasons other than CSE. Recurring characteristics are abuse of power in relation to victims, and that the vast majority were male.3 As a result of the methods used to ‘groom’ young people, they may not recognise the relationship as ‘abusive’, which may mean that in particular the needs of those aged 16-17 may be overlooked. There has been an increase in children and young people reporting that mobile technology and messaging systems were used in their exploitation.56

Child sexual exploitation in Merton

Number of identified victims of CSE

In the year prior to September 2014, the Merton CSE service worked with 67 children between 11-17 years old. The majority were female, and ethnicity was broadly in line with the changing demographics in Merton, with just over 50% from a White/British or White background. In terms of age, 13% of those referred for possible CSE were under 13 years old, 54% 14-15 years old, and 33% 16-18. Risk factors included drug, alcohol and mental health issues; just under a third were Looked After, the majority of whom were placed out of borough.

In 2014 the Police identified 32 individuals as being vulnerable to CSE.

Data on CSE is not currently available from health services.

Identifying children and young people at risk of CSE

Responsibility for identifying and responding to issues of known or suspected child sexual exploitation in Merton is led by the Promote and Protect Young People (PPYP) steering group which is a sub group of the Merton Safeguarding Children Board (MSCB). There is also an operational PPYP group which meets on a monthly basis.

The identification of young people at risk of CSE has been supported by the work of Jigsaw4U, Barnardo's and a specialist Young Women and Girls Worker in the Family and Adolescent Service who works with young women on the edge of gangs, potentially at risk of CSE. A review of children missing in Merton between January 2013 and September 2014 has demonstrated that there is a clear connection between those children deemed to be at risk of CSE and being missing from home or Care.

Perpetrators of CSE in Merton

A Police review of those persons of interest to the Police in relation to CSE in Merton shows a prevalence of known mental health issues and learning difficulties, for which specialised support and intervention is being managed by professionals. The profile of behaviour is locally based and activity is centred in and around the geographic areas in which both perpetrators and victims reside or frequent.

Evidence of what works to tackle child sexual exploitation

The CSEGG Inquiry listed the following components of end-to-end prevention and support:2

  • Prevention (whole-school approaches; awareness-raising for parents/carers, communities and local businesses; training for professionals)
  • Pre-emptive policing to forestall exploitation (including case profiling, perpetrator profiling, and multi-agency action)
  • Targeted early intervention (with vulnerable young people and their families, and also with those with similar risk profiles to stop it happening to others)
  • Enduring support for victims and families
  • Identification and apprehension of perpetrators
  • Rehabilitation of offenders

Data sharing and analysis across agencies (both within and between boroughs) is vital, and young people’s views should be at the heart of developing strategic plans to tackle CSE.7

Merton services to identify and support children at risk or victims of child sexual exploitation

Strategic coordination and intelligence

  • Merton MSCB has statutory oversight of a range of related issues including CSE, child trafficking, girls and gangs, and FGM. A Promote and Protect Young People (PPYP) sub-group was formed in 2011 as a multi-agency partnership with responsibility for identifying and responding to CSE.
  • Merton has a CSE strategy, and includes a multi-agency agreed protocol for identifying and responding to CSE concerns, including information sharing arrangements.


  • Personal Health and Social Education (PHSE) in secondary schools covers a range of risk issues such as ‘sexting’, e-safety and safe peer relationships. Safer Merton’s annual Youth Conference worked on safety in peer relationships and teenage domestic violence. Schools run targeted prevention programs such as ‘leading ladies’ empowerment and aspiration programme. A theatre company have presented an interactive play and workshops focussing on sex and relationships and drugs and alcohol in Secondary Schools and youth services.
  • Barnardo's offer group work to schools and a number have engaged with this service and made close links to the service often seeking support and advice.
  • During 2014, Barnardo's linked with the MOPAC worker for Girls to run joint workshops within schools looking at Sexual Exploitation and Girls within Gangs.

Early identification

  • CSE Champions identified in all local maintained Secondary Schools and academies, to support awareness raising and early identification.
  • Barnado's have trained multi-agency partners including social work and police to raise awareness and skills in identifying and responding to CSE.
  • Merton Police schools involvement officers are fully briefed on how to spot CSE and work closely with partner colleagues in the school environment to promptly intervene.
  • Merton Police and partners will support ‘Operation Makesafe’ when it rolls-out in early 2015, which aims to raise awareness of CSE within Merton’s hospitality, transport and licensed premises trades
  • Health professionals have an important role in early identification of CSE and awareness among staff as part of their safeguarding role is essential.

Specialist support to victims

  • Barnardo's are commissioned to provide specialist support to CSE victims in Merton. To date they have worked with 42 children and young people in the borough, using an evidence-based Assertive Outreach Approach.8
  • A Jigsaw4u Project Worker is commissioned to work to safeguard young people in Merton who go missing and especially those experiencing sexual exploitation. They support the multi-agency network to identify hot spots, potential perpetrators and gangs. In the last year they provided a service to 75 young people.

Persons of interest, perpetrators and prosecution

  • Merton supported the Metropolitan Police Pan London CSE protocol. The PPYP group has membership from the central CSE police team to support identification and ensure effective local Borough Police action. The Central Police CSE team have delivered a programme of briefings to local police and partners on their role in combating CSE.
  • Merton has successfully bid for MOPAC funding for a post to coordinate CSE work with gangs/groups and support information sharing between agencies to identify perpetrators.

What is the evidence that we are making a difference?

Mid year analysis of the outcomes for the cohort of young people that received specialist CSE support in Merton in 2014 showed that young people had either maintained or improved outcomes in all areas. All young people in the cohort had maintained or improved outcomes in relation to enhancing carer-child relationships; ability to express feelings; being able to describe safety strategies; reduction in level of harm/risk; stable and secure accommodation and awareness of their own rights and those of others.

A recent review of LAC children placed out of borough showed that in all cases there was evidence of involvement from the commissioned specialist services (Jigsaw4U, Barnado's).

In December 2013, the CSE service was awarded the London Safeguarding Children award in recognition of the multi-agency work to identify and protect those at risk of CSE in Merton.

Merton Voice - what young people think

  • The annual residents survey includes a young residents questionnaire to capture the views of 11-17 year olds. In 2014 this highlighted that the large majority of young people thought Merton was a good place to live, felt personally satisfied and happy, and said the Council does enough to protect them. However, personal concerns were expressed about crime, bullying and bad behaviour, with over half of young people identifying that ‘feeling safe’ was the biggest area for improvement:  
  • The LB Merton Children’s Schools and Families User Voice Strategy was produced in 2014 and is intended to capture and monitor work undertaken to facilitate service users influence on service design and continuous improvement. The process aims to embed a culture of ‘user voice’ as central to service planning and delivery. This includes continued support for Young advisors, Young inspectors and the Youth Parliament to input into the planning and governance of services
  • A collaborative, consultative project is taking place between London South Bank University and Merton Children’s Services. The project will consult young people who are at risk and/or have used Merton Safeguarding Services, using a questionnaire and focus groups. The data gathered will be used to provide a contemporary knowledge-base of current risk issues in the area and to consider how young people want Merton Children’s Services to work with them in best ensure their on-going safety. Findings will be reported in 2015.

What more could be done to tackle child sexual exploitation in Merton ?

  • Ensure that the best possible data and intelligence is available to inform planning and action locally. This includes ensuring accurate and proactive recording of children and young people at risk of CSE by Police and Health Services.
  • Ensure that information on user voice is gathered routinely and used to inform service delivery across all agencies.
  • Conduct a self audit of CSE against the checklist for preventing, identifying and tackling CSE as recommended by the Jay Report (2014).9
  • Implement the “See Me, Hear Me” Framework for protecting children and young people, from strategic planning to operational interventions.

Key commissioning recommendations

  • Consult on and agree a local multi-agency (pan London compliant) dataset for CSE, including training for professionals.
  • Ensure accurate and proactive recording of children and young people at risk of CSE by Police and health services.
  • Ensure use of data to effectively identify and monitor children and young people at risk of CSE, including use of the CSEGG 11 indicators of CSE risk, and profile of perpetrators and links to gangs.
  • Ensure regular audits of all CSE referrals and review data capture and analysis in order to inform strategic and operational planning.
  • Continue to give conspicuous care to young people placed out borough,  through effective collaboration with the host Local Authority where young people are placed at greater distance form Merton so that they are effectively linked in to appropriate CSE services that can safely support them and their carers.
  • Continue to build awareness and resilience in children and young people to help prevent them being sexually exploited.
  • Establish local group/network for families to help them understand and safeguard their children and to support them to identify and refer matters of concern for support and guidance and action.
  • Ensure a consistent and systematic recording process to map and monitor persons of interest and perpetrators.
  • Ensure effective support for any young person and their family when their case is progressing through to prosecution.


1. Department for Education (2011) Tackling Sexual Exploitation Action Plan, p4

2. ^ abc Office of the Children’s Commissioner (2013) “If only someone had listened.” Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups - Final Report, Nov 2013

3. ^ abc Office of the Children’s Commissioner (2012) “I thought I was the only one. The only one in the world.” Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups - Interim Report, Nov 2012

4.^ Scott, S (2001) Barnardo’s PHASE project: a case study evaluation. University of Liverpool, Liverpool; Cusick, L (2002) Youth prostitution: a literature review, Child Abuse Review 11: 230-251, quoted in Barnado's (2011) Puppet on a string: the urgent need to cut children free from sexual exploitation

5. ^ abOffice of the Children’s Commissioner (2012) Briefing for the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education, on the emerging findings, with a special focus on children in care. Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups - Accelerated Report, July 2012

6.^ ChildLine (2012) Caught in a Trap, October 2012. p10

7.^ Coffey A (2014) Real Voices - Child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester. An independent report by Ann Coffey, MP. October 2014

8.^ Scott S & Skidmore P (2006), Reducing the Risk: Barnado's support for sexually exploited young people - A two year evaluation

9.^ Jay A (2014) Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham (1997 – 2013)