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The Department for Education (DfE) have produced an advice document for professionals entitled “Definition and a guide for practitioners, local leaders and decision makers working to protect children from sexual exploitation 2017” (DfE, 2017). This advice replaces the 2009 guidance Safeguarding children and young people from sexual exploitation. This advice document should be read in conjunction with Working together to safeguard children 2015: A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children 2015, which continues to provide statutory guidance covering the legislative requirements on services to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, including in relation to child sexual exploitation.

Child sexual exploitation is defined as:

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. (DfE, 2017)

Further advice is offered in terms of understanding child sexual exploitation: It is critical to remember the unequal power dynamic within which an exchange occurs when a child is sexually exploited. The receipt of something by a child does not make them any less of a victim (DfE, 2017). Children cannot consent to their own abuse. All children are entitled to protection and support.  Safeguarding duties do not depend on a child’s desire to be safeguarded (DfE, 2017).

This guidance applies to male and female children up to the age of 18 years irrespective of whether they are living independently, at home, with carers, or in a residential setting. All references in this guidance to children or young people mean those under the age of 18 as defined in the Children Acts 1989 and 2004.

Because of the vulnerabilities of care leavers and the need to address the issue of CSE holistically, this guidance also addresses our role, in liaison with other agencies, to tackle exploitation of care leavers up to the age of 25.

Disabled children are at significantly greater risk of physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect than non-disabled children. All agencies need to share and build on existing knowledge and good practice and work together towards ensuring equal protection for disabled children. A review of case reviews from 2010 by the NSPCC highlighted concerns that capacity to consent is not always fully considered with disabled children as the chronological age rather than developmental age is focused on. (NSPCC)