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 under the age of 18 into sexual activity in exchange for something the victim needs or wants 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.
Violence, coercion and intimidation are common in CSE. A common feature of CSE is the child does not recognise the coercive nature of the relationship and does not see themselves as a victim of exploitation. Young people often trust their abuser and do not understand that they are being abused. They may depend on their abuser or be too scared to tell anyone what’s happening. Victims of child sexual exploitation are often tricked into thinking their abuser is a friend or even a ‘boyfriend’.
The child is groomed for sexual abuse. Groomers choose victims who are vulnerable. They may have few friends, be a child looked after by the local authority (in care), be naïve and/or innocent, looking for affection, have low self-esteem, special educational needs or have a troubled family life. However, any child can be a potential victim.
Groomers spend time gaining the trust of their victim or victims and make them dependent on the groomer by supplying something the victim does not have e.g. affection, accommodation, access to drugs or alcohol etc. Once a groomer has the child’s trust or control over them, they will then move on to physically or sexually abusing the child.
Grooming can be done on-line via chat rooms, social networking sites, gaming sites and there are many well documented cases of abusers misrepresenting themselves to young people on line. Children may be persuaded to post sexual images on the Internet/mobile phones, take part in sexual activity using a webcam or smartphone or have sexual conversations via text or email. Children may then be threatened with exposure unless they agree to continue their posts or take part in sexual activities. They might also threaten the child saying they will hurt their family or friends if they tell anyone.
Grooming can also be done through direct contact. It is not uncommon for a child who has been “groomed” to be passed amongst a group of abusers.
Sexual exploitation is used in gangs to:
- exert power and control over members
- initiate young people into the gang
- exchange sexual activity for status or protection
- entrap rival gang members by exploiting girls and young women
- inflict sexual assault as a weapon in conflict.
Signs of CSE:
Sexual exploitation can be difficult to identify as signs can be mistaken for “normal teenage behaviour”.
Those involved in CSE may:-
- be involved in abusive relationships, intimidated and fearful of certain people or situations
- associate with groups of older people, or antisocial groups, or with other vulnerable peers
- associate with other young people involved in sexual exploitation
- be involved in gangs, gang fights, gang membership
- have older boyfriends or girlfriends
- spend time at places of concern, such as hotels or known brothels
- not know where they are, because they have been moved around the country
- go missing from home, care or education
Other indicators include:-
- being withdrawn
- suddenly behaving differently
- being clingy
- being depressed
- problems sleeping or nightmares
- eating disorders or changes in eating habits
- wetting the bed or soiling clothes
- taking risks
- frequent absence from school
- obsessive behaviour
- misuse of drugs or alcohol
- self-harm or thoughts about suicide
- sexually activity at a young age, promiscuity or use of sexual language or knowledge inconsistent with age
- have physical symptoms e.g. a sexually transmitted infection (STI or pregnancy
Members of staff who think a student is the victim of or is at risk of CSE should report this as a child protection issue to the Designated Safeguarding Lead.
Members of the public should report this to the police or to MASH (01213031888)