Child Sexual Exploitation

Child Sexual Exploitation, or CSE as it is abbreviated, is one of the most pressing concerns for society in general. Everyone involved in fostering children and young people needs to be fully aware of the issues involved. CSE is what takes place when abusers encourage children and young people under the age of 18 into relationships, or situations that are sexually exploitative. In reward for engaging in sexual activities, a young person may be offered a variety of things. These can include: accommodation, food, drugs, gifts or money. Initially, simple affection may be offered as abusers try to select children who might be feeling vulnerable and uncared for. All children can be potential victims:

“Any child or young person may be at risk of sexual exploitation, regardless of their family background or other circumstances. This includes boys and young men as well as girls and young women. However, some groups are particularly vulnerable. These include children and young people who have a history of running away or of going missing from home, those with special needs, those in and leaving residential and foster care, migrant children, unaccompanied asylum seeking children, children who have disengaged from education and children who are abusing drugs and alcohol, and those involved in gangs (p 17).”(Safeguarding Children and Young people from Sexual Exploitation, 2009).

Technology has grown increasingly significant regarding CSE. Children find it hard to recognise the risks; requests, initially, can be low level – such as being asked to send ordinary pictures followed gradually by requests for intimate pictures. Being groomed online can also involve intimidation and coercion – often with the direct, or implied threat of violence. Perpetrators will seek out young people who are vulnerable, often with limited life choices. The relationship is one where the abuser always retains power over the abused: this has the effect of increasing the dependence of the victim.

Sexual exploitation can arise in different forms: the relationship may begin with a feeling it consensual. Sex may be exchanged for a range of different things such as affection, accommodation, gifts or simple attention. Threats and blackmail may then be used if perpetrators want to involve young people in organised crime such as drugs. Social media, together with developing technology, such as tablets and mobile phones has given rise to increasing levels of concern. Cyber bullying bound up with CSE is increasingly prevalent where young children can be accessed through technology, used when they cannot be monitored as they would be at home.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre state that the bulk of child sexual exploitation offences now take place online. They have found that the group comprising most victims is children aged between 13 and 14, but young women and young men can also fall victim.

In trying to determine how many young people are affected, there are no precise figures available:cases in recent years do provide some indication as to the potential scale of the problem. One leading example was The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham published in 2014. This estimated that 1,400 children were sexually exploited between 1997 and 2013. There is no typical Perpetrator, they may be: any ethnicity, any gender, an adult or another young person. They may be very ‘visible’ professional people you would not associate remotely with such activity. What they are all likely to have in common is a persuasive, articulate and plausible manner. Not all perpetrators will use money or presents to coerce young people.

For anyone connected with fostering, this is an area of constant concern: last year Ofsted reported a 36% rise in children missing from foster care. When this happens the worry will always be that abuse may be involved or be about to take place. Some young people might already have been the victims of CSE before becoming looked after children.

Some possible indicators that CSE is taking place that you should be aware of -

for general health
  • sexually risky behaviour,
  • sexually precocious language,
  • physical symptoms (bruising can indicate physical/sexual assault),
  • fatigue/listless behaviour,
  • recurring STD’s (sexually transmitted diseases),
  • pregnancy, or seeking pregnancy advice,
  • indications of drug, alcohol or substance misuse:
  for education,
  • truancy,
  • changes in educational performance,
  • volatile behaviour, mood swings,
  • abusive language:
  for general behaviour/emotional behaviour,
  • secretive behaviour,
  • involvement in petty crime,
  • being seen with unknown adults,
  • erratic timekeeping,
  • poor self image and low self esteem,
  • self harming behaviour, overdosing, cutting, eating disorders,
  • promiscuous behaviour:
  definite signals,
  • associating with others known to be sexually active,
  • disengagement from the usual peer group and age-appropriate activities,
  • sexual relationship with an older person,
  • sexual relationship with a younger person - a known victim of abuse,
  • being observed in places where sexual activity is known to take place,
  • going missing repeatedly for prolonged periods,
  • having sums of money without an adequate explanation,
  • new clothes, smarter appearance without an explanation of where the money came from,
  • having keys that are unfamiliar,
  • staying out all night,
  • possession of expensive items - perhaps mobile phones and jewellery.

Foster carers will usually have a sense when something is not right. The above lists are some of the common indicators. It is important to understand that young people who are being sexually exploited commonly do not regard themselves as victims. If you have suspicions, you should quickly bring them to the attention of your fostering social worker.

Steps foster carers can take

Children and young people should be told that it is never safe to arrange to meet someone they have only met online – unless they take an adult with them.

In the home environment, a carer can place access restrictions on computers, laptops and phones that have an internet connection. There is more information on this at thinkuknow.co.uk.

It is important to make children aware; if they are worried, that they can talk to adults they know – such as teachers. They should also be told they can get anonymous support by calling Childline on 08001111 or Get Connected on 0808 808 4994 (text 80849).

Always listen to what a child or young person says and take it seriously.

If a child goes missing, always call the police. It is not necessary to wait 24 hours.

If you have suspicions that a child or young person in your care may be being groomed, report your concerns to the National Crime Agency: www.nationalcrimeagency.gov.uk/

Summary and how to help victims of CSE

Abuse can have many long term effects. These can show in a range of psychological and behavioural problems. As mentioned, depression and low self esteem may result. Eating disorders, continuing sexualised behaviour and substance misuse can also occur.

It has been estimated that 36% of girls and 29% of boys could be affected by CSE.

child sexual exploitation

Children and young people of any age and background can be at risk from CSE

Significantly, one study discovered that around three-quarters of children who had been the victims of sexual abuse, were unable to report the abuse at the time it was happening. A further third still had not reported their experience when they reached early adulthood. It is important to let children know they can communicate anything without fear of judgement: that they can feel safe in reporting what is happening to them. They should know also that they are not alone and this is a problem that affects a great many young people in society. This can deal with the sense of guilt and isolation perpetrators exploit. The social worker responsible for the child/young person’s case should be informed immediately if you have concerns. The following links provide further information and guidance.


  • http://www.parentsprotect.co.uk/useful_links.htm
  • www.mosac.org.uk/
  • https://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/what-we-do/support-for-families/work-with-children-who-have-been-sexually-abused/
  • http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/what-is-child-sexual-exploitation?gclid=CP-A6a3Fk84CFUEUGwodgr4JhA

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