Child sexual exploitation is a crime with devastating and long lasting consequences for its victims and their families. Childhoods and family life can be ruined and this is compounded when victims, or those at risk of abuse, do not receive appropriate, immediate and ongoing support. The first response to children, and support for them to access help, must be the best it can be from social workers, police, health practitioners and others who work with children and their families. (DFE, 2017)
According to the DFE’s updated guidance on Child Sexual Exploitation produced in February 2017, CSE 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.
Some of the potential warning signs of a child being at risk of CSE include:
- frequently going missing from home or school
- going out late at night and not returning until morning
- being picked up in cars by unknown adults
- having a significantly older boyfriend, girlfriend or friend
- having unexplained money, possessions, mobile phone credit or a new mobile phone
- becoming emotionally volatile (it is important to note that mood swings are common in all young people, but more severe changes could indicate that something is wrong)
- increased use of mobile phone and / or inappropriate internet activity
- displaying inappropriate sexualised behaviour
- involvement in criminal activity
- regularly going out and drinking alcohol and /or taking drugs
School-Home Support (SHS) received funding for 2 years in October 2016 to work with young girls at risk of teenage pregnancy and Child Sexual Exploitation in Barking & Dagenham. During the first year, we have received referrals for young girls who have been identified as being at risk of CSE as result of:
- poor attendance
- professionals believing young people to be sexually active with older boyfriend/s
- suspected gang affiliation
- compulsive lying
- believing everything people say
- being considered a risk in the community
- being easily influenced/ doing things to please people
- regularly going missing
- exhibiting aggressive behaviour
- using social media inappropriately
Our practitioner has worked intensively with the young people and has tailored the work to their individual needs. This has included support in the following areas:
- delivering awareness raising sessions on sexual health, contraception, STIs, etc
- supporting young people in developing healthy and positive relationships
- developing their awareness of the risks and long-term consequences of teenage pregnancy
- re-engaging them with education and encouraging them to make positive life choices
- increasing their awareness of safe internet usage and risks associated with social media platforms
- raising their awareness of possible risks they may encounter in the community
- reducing risk of the misuse of alcohol and drugs through awareness raising sessions
- signposting them to specialist, external organisations if deemed appropriate
I had been working with Sarah and her family intensively for over 6 months. I had supported her in increasing her attendance at school, re-engaging with after-school activities, and improving her relationship with her mum and other family members. Sarah was a friendly and curious young person who was often perceived by her teachers as being naive and overly trusting of people when she first met them. She had a small friendship network at school and spent a lot of time on her own reading or catching up on her homework.
Sarah was successful in gaining a place at college and was attending as needed and completing her work. Sarah’s mum was also engaging with parent evenings but still had some difficulties in ensuring effective parental boundaries and safety within the home.
During a telephone conversation with mum a few weeks into the spring term, she told me that Sarah had made a new friend. Mum said that she did not know who the new friend was but she was concerned as Sarah was coming back home later and later and this was out of character for her. I arranged a home-visit with Sarah and her mum as soon as possible to discuss these concerns.
When I met with Sarah and mum, Sarah was initially reluctant to discuss her new friend, but she eventually disclosed that she had been approached by an adult male security guard at a local shopping centre and they had met on several occasions. Sarah said that on the most recent occasion when they met, he had asked her to go to dinner at a local restaurant, and, although reluctant, she felt forced into agreeing. The male had suggested afterwards that they catch the bus to his flat but thankfully, Sarah had declined and run home. I told Sarah that she was very brave for having discussed the situation and that I would be discussing these concerns with other professionals.
These concerns were immediately reported to the CSE department of the local police force as well as completing a CYPS referral. The police opened an investigation into the unknown male and his grooming behaviour and arranged to meet with Sarah to gather further information and offer support.
I had also recently developed an effective working relationship with several professionals from the NSPCC who were undertaking targeted one-to-one work with young people at risk of CSE. With Sarah’s agreement, I arranged for the specialist CSE practitioner to undertake awareness raising sessions with Sarah around building healthy relationships, community safety, contraception, and sexual health. Sarah was also invited to join a regular group at a youth centre near her college to develop her confidence and self-esteem further. Sarah continues to attend this group to this day.
I also undertook some direct work with Sarah and her mum around keeping herself safe online and ensuring that Sarah adhered to curfews and parental boundaries in the future. I also ensured that a meeting took place at college with her form tutors to make them aware of the situation and to monitor Sarah and her behaviour. College were helpful in suggesting a mentor for Sarah who could support in building her friendship network within college.
Sarah was able to understand the risky elements of her behaviour and now has a better awareness of keeping herself safe in the community who to speak to if she is approached by strangers in the future.
Early intervention is vital in reducing the risk of young people being at risk of CSE. It is important that schools and early help practitioners are making young people aware of how to keep themselves safe online and in the community as well as who to turn to if they feel at risk.
There are a range of services and organisations available for young people to access as well as resources to use to help them increase their awareness e.g. interactive games, apps and some of these are highlighted below.
If you have any concerns for the safety of a young person and believe them to be at risk of CSE, it is important to highlight these to local CSC as well as the local CSE Police department, details of which can be found online.
Barnardo’s – The Real Story Resource Pack – http://www.barnardos.org.uk/the-real-story-resource-pack – Resources to use with young people that explore risks of CSE
Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) – https://www.ceop.police.uk/safety-centre/ – CEOP is a law enforcement agency and is here to help keep children and young people safe from sexual abuse and grooming online. Concerns about online grooming and sexual abuse should be reported to CEOP
The Children’s Society – https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/knowing-the-signs-of-child-sexual-exploitation
NSPCC – CSE Research & Resources – https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect/child-sexual-exploitation/research-and-resources/ – Useful resources that can be used with children and young people.
Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation – http://paceuk.info – Pace works alongside parents and carers of children who are – or are at risk of being – sexually exploited by perpetrators external to the family. We offer guidance and training to professionals on how child sexual exploitation affects the whole family.
Safer London (Empower) – http://saferlondon.org.uk/services/empower/ – Organisation that works one-to-one with young women and men, providing a safe and confidential space to talk about their experiences and relationships.
Wud U? – https://www.barnardos.org.uk/what_we_do/our_work/sexual_exploitation/cse-professionals/wud-u-app.htm – A free educational tool that aims to show young people the behaviours that could put them at risk of being sexually exploited, through illustrated, interactive stories.
*Names have been changed