Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse that is based on an ongoing exploitative relationship between perpetrator and child. A child or young person under the age of 18 is sexually exploited when they have received ‘something’ (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, gifts, money) in exchange for sex.
Children and young people can be sexually exploited through the use of technology – for example by being persuaded to post sexual images on the internet or via a mobile phone.
Sexually exploitative relationships are characterised by an imbalance of power and the use of controlling behaviours to keep the child or young person in a dependent position.
Sexual exploitation usually involves a ‘grooming’ stage. Grooming describes the variety of methods are used to manipulate and control victims including:
- The giving of gifts or presents;
- The giving of rewards – like mobile phone top-ups or games credits;
- False promises of love and/or affection
- The supply of alcohol and/or drugs.
It is very common for the grooming of children and young people to take place online. Children and young people can make themselves vulnerable though their online activities and abusers are quick to exploit this. Victims may have been persuaded or coerced into posting indecent images or performing sexual acts on webcam. Online grooming can also progress to meeting face to face.
The early stages of the grooming process can be an exciting time for a child or young person – particularly if they are given high status gifts or are taken to parties, pubs, or clubs that they wouldn’t normally get into.
Grooming is a way of developing an exclusive bond with the victim. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to grooming where the abuser deceptively constructs a connection between sought after love or affection. As a result the child or young person will believe that this person is actually their boyfriend or girlfriend – having no prior experience of sex or love against which to measure the relationship.
The impact of sexual exploitation on children and families
As a result of the grooming process children and young people will rarely recognise the coercive and abusive nature of the relationship they are involved in and will often prioritise their attachment or loyalty to the offender over their own safety.
The perpetrators of sexual exploitation are not only very skilled at driving a wedge between a child and their family but will also isolate them from their usual friends and support networks.
Sexually exploited children also suffer physical, psychological, behavioural, and attitudinal changes, all of which present severe challenges to their parents and carers.
While there is evidence that an unstable home life can increase the vulnerability of child sexual exploitation the grooming process can bring chaos to a formerly ‘stable’ household.
Pace is the leading national charity working with parents and carers whose children are being sexually exploited.
Analysing and Responding to risks in relation to sexual exploitation of children and young people.
The LSCB has produced a child sexual exploitation risk assessment tool which can be used by any professional who is working with a child or young person and has concerns that they may be at risk from, or experiencing, sexual exploitation.
Because the child or young person may not recognise the level of risk or harm that they are exposed to it is particularly important that professionals exercise judgment when assessing a child or young person’s circumstances.
The tool supports professionals to consider the vulnerability of a child or young person alongside any evidence of exploitative situations and relationships in order to reach a judgement of risk.
The toolkit provides further information about child sexual exploitation and links to specialist organisations and resources that can help to support professional practice.
The SAFE Team
In Lincolnshire the SAFE Team provides a multi-agency response to Child Sexual Exploitation, taking the lead in the identification, prevention, investigation, and prosecution of cases across the county. The team is made up of officers and staff from Lincolnshire Police, Children’s Services, Lincolnshire Community Health Services, Youth Offending, CAMHS, and Barnardos.
To request support from the SAFE Team professionals should first contact the Children’s Services Customer Service Centre on 01522 782111.
The LSCB provides an e-learning module: Safeguarding Children from Abuse by Sexual Exploitation which is designed to improve awareness of the main issues surrounding exploitation.
The LSCB recommends that all agencies make the e-learning module mandatory for all staff that come into contact with children and young people.
Professionals who have already completed the CSE e-learning and have also attended the two day inter-agency Safeguarding Children and Young People training can sign up for a one day work-shop that helps them to recognise and respond to sexual exploitation.
To access the e-learning or apply for the one day training log onto the Learning Management System (LMS)
E-learning for children and young people
The Be Smart Be Safe e-learning programme has been designed to help children and young people understand how grooming and sexual exploitation happens – so they can recognise the signs and stay safe.
The programme has been developed for Lincolnshire professionals by Barnardos with the help of young people from the Leaving Care Service, students from Grantham College, pupils from The Walton Girls High School and members of the Lincolnshire Young Inspectors.
The programme and its accompanying Resource Pack is aimed at 11-17 year olds and has been designed for use by anyone who has contact with this age group, including teachers, youth workers, support workers, and residential staff.