CSEC stands for Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. A CSEC-involved youth is one who has disclosed or is suspected of having exchanged sexual activity for shelter, food, money, drugs, education, care, or anything of value.

The youth is often “groomed” by an older person who uses psychological manipulation to make them believe he/she loves and cares for their well-being. After establishing trust, the pimp or perpetrator uses physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse to make the youth feel trapped and powerless. This “trauma-bond” is difficult to break, ensuring that the youth will most likely remain loyal even in the face of severe victimization.

Sexual exploitation is also common on social media, where perpetrators regularly target youth and manipulate and threaten them into sending sexually alluring photos of themselves where they are often sold online, with or without the youth’s knowledge. In addition, sex transactions are often conducted online.

Red flags to look for

Signs that may indicate a youth is CSEC-involved:

  • They frequently run away from home and often miss school.
  • They have access to unaccounted-for cell phone(s), clothes, and other items.
  • They spend time with adults or older kids who show signs of controlling the youth’s behavior.
  • They have new tattoo(s) or markings that may indicate branding.
  • Visible signs of physical or sexual abuse.
  • Frequent accessing of STI or pregnancy testing.

What to do if you suspect a CSEC situation

  • Use your judgement to assess the presence of red flags.
  • Immediately file a 51A report with DCF; there is no need to investigate beforehand as long as you suspect that a youth is CSEC-involved.
  • Any questioning of the youth should be non-judgmental and non-investigatory, focusing on supporting the youth as the victim and building trust.
  • Never ask “why” questions.
  • Do not ask the youth for a written statement.