Report highlights social work challenges when tackling child sexual exploitation

Child victims of sexual exploitation tend to be targeted because of their history of vulnerability, including being in care, Cafcass has warned.

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Child victims of sexual exploitation tend to be targeted because of their history of vulnerability, including being in care, Cafcass has warned.

Published this week, research from Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) also warned how victims of child sexual exploitation (CSE) may believe they are in consensual relationships.

These victims describe perpetrators as ‘boyfriends’ and may not have disclosed fully the account of CSE.

Vulnerabilities such as highly unstable family backgrounds, a parental incapacity to provide protection and being exposed to substance abuse or violence in the family were understood to be common vulnerabilities from the 27 cases of CSE it studied.

“It is well-established that those who are minded to perpetrate sexual abuse/exploitation of children will carefully select vulnerable children, who are more likely to be successfully ‘groomed’, and less likely to disclose immediately or be protected by adults,” the report said.

The report stressed how victims are likely to have been “systematically groomed” into believing they are acting consensually.

“There are also indicators in some of the accounts that the authorities may have misunderstood the coercive elements of the interactions with men and failed to enquire sufficiently,” the report said.

Anthony Douglas, chief of Cafcass, said the research “highlights the difficulty social workers face” when trying identify exploitation.

“Hopefully this study will be built upon and allow us to recognise some of the recurring warning signs – ultimately enabling us to protect more vulnerable children from such an abhorrent crime,” he said.

This research featured alongside analysis of Cafcass submissions to serious case reviews which showed that domestic violence was the most common risk factor in private law proceedings, whilst in public law physical abuse was most common.

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