Child sexual exploitation: a guide for health practitioners

Guidelines for health practitioners on identifying and responding to a child or young person who may be at risk of or affected by sexual exploitation.

2. Definition

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse in which a person(s), of any age take advantage of a power imbalance to force or entice a child into engaging in sexual activity in return for something received by the child and /or those perpetrating or facilitating the abuse. As with other forms of child sexual abuse, the presence of perceived consent does not undermine the abusive nature of the act.

The National definition of child sexual exploitation for Scotland was revised in October 2016, to improve consistency in identification of cases of child sexual exploitation and aid effective multi-agency responses for those children who may be at risk of, or victims of child sexual exploitation.

Child sexual exploitation is defined as a form of child sexual abuse. Further information on child sexual exploitation, including the different models, how the definition should be applied and Scottish legislative context around it, can be found in the accompanying Summary Paper.

Points to note:

  • For the purposes of the definition, a child is anyone under the age of 18 years old.
  • In all cases of child sexual exploitation, a power imbalance exists in favour of the perpetrator/abuser.
  • The key distinguishing factor of child sexual exploitation from other forms of sexual abuse is the presence of an exchange of something in return for the sexual activity.
  • This can take the form of a tangible or intangible reward (money, drugs, alcohol, protection or perceived love or affection). For the child, this could also be prevention of something negative, for example a child who engages in sexual activity in order to avoid harm to other friends, family or pets.
  • Child sexual exploitation can involve physical contact or occur through non-physical contact (for example, online via a webcam, being persuaded to watch pornography or posting sexual images).
  • Child sexual exploitation happens to boys and girls.


Email: Katrina McDonald

Phone: 0300 244 4000 - Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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