I’m a detective in the child sexual exploitation team (CSE) for Cambridgeshire Constabulary and I know from experience that children and young people find it very difficult to ask for help.
It is not easy for parents, carers, friends or professionals to have these personal conversations with children and so I have highlighted some of the signs which may identify when a child is being exploited.
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 them.
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 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 other substances, 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 recognise 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.
CSE 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.
Exploitation is generally broken down into three categories:
Inappropriate relationship – one perpetrator who has inappropriate power of control over a young person. Boyfriend model and peer exploitation – perpetrator befriends/grooms child into a relationship then forces/coercers them to have sex with friends/associates.
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.
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