What happens when a child reports sexual exploitation?

I’m a detective in the child sexual exploitation team (CSE) for Cambridgeshire police. This blog emphasises just how difficult it is for children to ask for help. It is not easy for parents to have these conversations with children and I have highlighted some of the signs which may identify when a child is being exploited.

Lizzie (whose name has been changed to protect her identity), a 15 years old girl, was in town with her parents when a man walked pCSE-single-presentast. He didn’t notice Lizzie but she saw him. Instantly her face drained of colour and she started shaking.

Her reaction to seeing the man was so severe that her parents couldn’t help but notice. They asked what was wrong and instantly without being able to stop herself Lizzie said ‘that’s the man who made Katie (whose name has been changed to protect her  identity) do stuff’.

Her parents asked her what she meant but Lizzie wouldn’t speak about the man.

The police were contacted and the next day, a police officer from the CSE team and a social worker visited Lizzie at her home. She  was reluctant to speak about the man as Katie was her cousin and she had told Lizzie not to say anything. Lizzie was torn between her loyalties to her cousin and doing what she thought was right.

Lizzie said that Katie had met a man and he had bought her alcohol and gave her cannabis to smoke. Lizzie had met him a few times and then started receiving calls on her mobile from unknown men asking if she wanted to meet up for a drink. Katie agreed and took Lizzie along with her.

They would be collected in a car and taken to various locations, once at the location the girls were given alcohol and cannabis. Katie would then be taken to a different room. Lizzie stated that she didn’t know what happened in that room but when Katie returned her trousers were on back to front, she was quiet and just wanted to go home. Lizzie didn’t know any of the addresses they were taken to, and only knew the men by their nick names. She was able to take officers to the locations she had been taken too.

Katie was very reluctant to talk about the events. She had tried to shut out what had happened and was very angry with her cousin for telling her parents and the police. Katie didn’t tell anyone about what had happened, she had yet to come to terms with the abuse that she had suffered.

Katie stated that the first man who she had met had passed her phone number on to the other men and at one time she was getting five different men calling her in a day asking her to meet up with them. She was given lots of vodka to drink and lots of cannabis to smoke. She then described on several occasions being raped by different men at different locations.

She would tell them “No” but the men ignored her pleas and raped her. For Katie to finally tell someone what had happened to her, was extremely difficult and brave. Even though Katie and Lizzie only knew the men by ‘nicknames’ the police managed to identify them and they were arrested.

Many victims of CSE don’t realise that they are victims. They need time to come to terms with what has happened to them and to realise that what they were made to do was wrong. It can be so easy for young people to get themselves into situations which put them at risk of being sexually exploited, and it can take years to escape.

Young people can feel guilty, blame themselves or think they will get in trouble if they speak up and talk to someone. They also fear being hurt by their abusers at the same time as still having a strong tie and commitment to the abusers.

When a young person tells someone what has happened to them, they become very emotional. I have witnessed a young girl self-harm while telling me about her abuse. It can take many visits over days, weeks and sometimes months for the young person to talk about their ordeals.

All our young people are vulnerable to sexual exploitation, it is not just the homeless or the neglected children, although these children do make easier targets. There are many reasons that can make our children vulnerable to being exploited such as peer pressure, bereavement, being a young carer, using alcohol or substance dependant, lack of structure to their lives, low self-esteem or unsupervised use of the internet.

Sharing images over the internet is a form of exploitation and one that many will not recognised as being exploitative. Once an image has been sent the owner has lost control of it and it can be sent anywhere in the world.

There are many indicators that someone is being exploited such as having lots of new items which are beyond their financial means, being secretive with their phone and computer, coming home and going out late at night, staying out overnight without permission, using alcohol or other substances and changes in appearance. This can also just be the normal behaviour of a teenager and our challenge is to work out which it is.

Child sexual exploitation is about a young person being given something, anything from affection to money, clothes, food, phones, alcohol and drugs. Initially these gifts are ‘free’. This makes the young person who receives them valued, this opens them up to becoming sexually active with the person who gave the gifts.

Barnardo’s have broken exploitation down into three different categories:

  1. Inappropriate relationship – one perpetrator who has inappropriate power of control over a young person
  2. ‘Boyfriend’ model and peer exploitation – perpetrator befriends/grooms child into a relationship them forces/coercers them to have sex with friends/associates
  3. Organised/networked sexual exploitation or trafficking – Child passed through networks where they are forced or coerced into sexual activity with multiple men

If you have young children or work with them then take an interest in what they are doing. Young people who are being exploited will need support and help.

They won’t necessarily say what is happening but they will say or do things that will give cause for concern. Their behavior may change, they may also shoplift or commit some other crime, become subdued or start to use alcohol or other substances. This could be their way of getting some attention so they can be given the opportunity to talk to someone.

If you are concerned talk to the police, social care, your GP or school.

More information can be found by visiting: www.cambs.police.uk/GetCloser/ChildSexualExploitation


One thought on “What happens when a child reports sexual exploitation?

  1. Jan Dove

    You haven’t mentioned status as in Jimmy Saville Gary Glitter and other pillars of society as in networking. They just as much rapists and criminals and often hidden in institutions and positions of power……. Doc at Addenbrookes too many to mention.


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