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Tips to help you keep your child safe from child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA)

Child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA) is where children are sexually exploited for money, power or status. They might be invited to parties and given drugs and alcohol. They may also be groomed online.

Children or young people may be manipulated into believing they’re in a loving, consensual relationship, but it is important to remember that consent cannot be given, even if the young person believes that they are voluntarily engaging in sexual activity.

Children and young people from all backgrounds and communities can be vulnerable to sexual exploitation and it affects both genders and all sexualities. CSEA can and will look very different in different areas and grooming will be experienced differently by different young people. There is no standard model of CSEA.

The NSPCC has produced some tips to help you keep your child safe:

Talk to your child about healthy relationships

Help them to understand what consent means and discuss the difference between good and bad secrets. To help you start the conversation, the NSPCC has produced a range of resources. Parents with younger children can use the Underwear rule to explain that privates are private and that no means no, without having to use scary words. For older children, ChildLine has guidance on relationships and sexual abuse which can help to keep young people safe.

Reassure your child that they can tell you if they ever feel uncomfortable or worried

Listen carefully to anything they say, and if they are worried believe them and take it seriously. Make sure that they know you are there to help and that you won’t judge them. Let them know that if they are too anxious to talk to you about certain problems, they can talk to a ChildLine counsellor for free 24 hours a day, either online or by calling 0800 11 11.

Get to know who your child is spending time with and what they are up to

You may want to get to know your children’s friends but should also try to give them independence as they get older. Be aware of anyone who shows an unexplained interest in your child – especially if that means they would be spending time alone together, for example going on visits or babysitting. If your child goes to a sports club or community group, ask them about their child protection policy, and what to expect from the activities they take part in.

Talk to your child about staying safe online

This is particularly important during the Covid-19 crisis, when young people are spending more time than usual on their devices – mobile phones, tablets, gaming consoles, and our concern is that predators will also be spending more time online.

Advice for parents/carers from DS Mike Ford:

The internet is a huge part of young people’s lives so it is important to take an interest, just as you do with their activities in the real world. With younger children, explore the internet together and explain that the people they meet online are not always who they claim to be. Use the NSPCC’s Share Aware videos to explain the importance of keeping information private and not meeting up with strangers.

If you have older children Thinkuknow has useful resources, for you and your child, about sexual exploitation, including how to stay safe and spot any signs of concern.

Help your child to set up privacy settings & use reporting tools on social media sites

Take a look at the NSPCC’s Net Aware tool for guidance on how to use the most popular sites safely. Explain to them why it is important to keep accounts private and who they can tell on the site if something goes wrong. Your child may not want you to see their social media profiles but if you are feeling worried you could suggest that they ‘friend’ a trusted adult on their social media accounts, such as an aunt or a family friend. They will be able to keep an eye on your child’s activity without intruding too much.

Set up parental controls on your child’s devices

It is important to remember that parental controls alone aren’t a solution and it is still important to talk to your child about online safety. They are, however, a useful tool and can be used to prevent your child from seeing inappropriate content or to limit the information that can be shared. The NSPCC has information about parental controls and if you have any questions you can call the NSPCC’s and O2’s Online Safety helpline on 0808 8005002

Keep track of your child’s behaviour and look out for any unexplained changes in behaviour that may be warning signs

Children who are being exploited may become withdrawn, anxious, depressed, or aggressive. They may also miss school, change their eating habits, start to self-harm, or may take drugs and drink alcohol. Take a look at the NSPCC’s website for more information about the signs, symptoms, and effects of sexual exploitation and if you’re worried about a child, even if you’re unsure, phone the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000.