Over the last year, a significant amount of campaigning, work and research has been undertaken around the issue of child sexual exploitation (CSE).
High profile serious case reviews such as ‘The Overview Report of the Serious Case Review in respect of Young People 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6’ (Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Board, 2013) and ‘Independent inquiry CSE in Rotherham (1997-2013)’ have attracted a high level of media attention and shone the spotlight on CSE issues. Sadly, professionals working with the victims in those cases interpreted the activity of the vulnerable young people involved as ‘lifestyle choices.’ In some cases, the sexual abuse was even seen as a consensual relationship. In reality, those young victims experienced violent and degrading sexual assaults and were fearful of the consequences of failing to conform.
Subsequently, on the 17 February 2017, the DfE released new guidance for practitioners, ‘Child sexual exploitation: definition and guide for practitioners’ (February, 2017). The new definition now includes the irrelevance of perceived consent:
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 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.
DfE guidance ‘Working together to safeguard children, 2015’ has subsequently been updated to reflect this.
It is important that all practitioners working with children and young people become familiar with the new guidance as it provides an insight into the complexities of child sexual exploitation. Schools in particular have a key role to play when working with children and young people. To equip staff with preventing and responding to abuse it is vital that schools:
- Provide early and continuous education around child sexual exploitation accompanied by wider resiliency building. This should encompass sexual development, choice and consent, healthy relationships, harmful social norms, abusive behaviour and online safety in an age-appropriate way. Educative work should also be extended to parents so they can understand the risks and know where to access support.
- Ensure whole school training around sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation. This should include spotting the signs and indicators, making staff aware that children and young people can also be perpetrators of child sexual exploitation, and an understanding that what appears to be consensual activity may not be. Staff should also be equipped to challenge any misconceptions that this is the child’s fault in any way.
- Have an understanding of their local context. This is crucial in understanding the impact of the wider environment including any known hotspots, gang issues, etc.
- Take an holistic and multi-agency approach.
- Ensure practitioners working with children and young people receive support and supervision to sustain effective practice. Supervision is essential in supporting the progression of cases, maintaining a child focus, providing opportunities to reflect on practice and recognising any issues which may impact on casework.
Key research shows that child sexual exploitation can have long-lasting consequences for victims and their families including emotional trauma and mental illness. Experiences of child sexual exploitation impact on the child or young person’s longer-term life chances. Victims of child sexual exploitation are associated with higher rates of youth offending, poor educational prospects, involvement in adult sex work, isolation from family and friends, negative future relationships and increased risk of other forms of violence or abuse. (Beckett et al, 2017). It is therefore essential that we raise awareness around this area and be well equipped to respond to any concerns.
Further information can be found on: