Somebody tell them

Parents need help to cope with a child at risk of prostitution
if the trauma is not to destroy their families. Julie Adams and
Caroline Henry report.

“Children involved in high-risk activities described as
prostitution…should be treated primarily as victims of
abuse.”.1 Guidance is available for the various
professionals concerned with children at risk of prostitution but
the parents and carers of the young people involved are often left
in the dark as to what is happening to their child.

Parents often do not understand how “pimps” operate. Their children
often do not enter into prostitution voluntarily and are coerced or
enticed. There is also little understanding among parents of how
pimps convince children that they love them, have sex with them and
then sell the child for sex. This is done often from a room in a
house or flat and the children are usually locked in against their
will, sometimes for several days at a time.2

Parent and adolescent conflict increases and families are put under
immense stress, which affects the family’s dynamics. This can
affect families from all socio-economic backgrounds.

Feelings of isolation, panic, anger, guilt – even hate are all
emotions that parents don’t know how to control but often direct
towards their own child.

Who can parents turn to? Feelings of shame often mean they can’t
talk to friends or family. Many parents feel that they are the only
family with these problems.

Parents and carers often do not understand the law, nor do they
feel that the police and social workers are responding to their
children going missing. They cannot understand why pimps are not
arrested or often why their daughters do not wish to make a
complaint against the pimps. Parents do not know that the children
often give a conditioned response and are capable of denying the
abuse and coercion going on within the grooming

Parents feel unable to cope, and their lack of understanding, and
the feeling that their child is out of their control, increase the
risk that their children will enter the care system. The longer the
child is accommodated the less likely becomes any successful
reintegration back into their family.

Parents need a support mechanism to enable them to voice their
feelings. Social workers can help parents form their own support
networks but perhaps they are not best placed to offer this support
themselves. Parents feel that despite being empathic and sensitive,
social workers were judging them or failing to understand their

Expressing these feelings to other parents in the same position can
be cathartic. Professionals should be on hand to offer more
information about how these issues affect family life and how
social services, police and other professionals quickly can become
a part of their lives. Professionals are best placed to clarify the
procedures and policies that are attached to this area. They
shouldn’t pretend to know how the parents are feeling, this being
best left to those experiencing the problem.

Parents with children either on the periphery of third-party abuse,
or actually being sexually exploited in prostitution need to be
recognised, valued by professionals and educated in how their
children are abused within the grooming process by pimps. They
require assistance to enable them to find their own voices and form
support networks with other parents who can understand, identify
and recognise the devastation that is happening within their
families. The assessment framework talks about “working together”
but when will this be put into practice?4

1 ACPC Nottinghamshire, Child Sexual
Exploitation Guidance & Info Pack, 2001

2 Department of Health, Safeguarding Children Involved
In Prostitution, DoH, 2000

3 Department of Health, Framework for the Assessment of
Children in Need and their Families, DoH, 2000

4 Department of Health, Working Together to Safeguard
Children: A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote
the welfare of children, DoH, 1999

Julie Adams and Caroline Henry are social workers who work
with young people

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