Sex trap

    Concern is growing over the way older men prey on young people.
    Angie Heal looks at research into how
    drugs are used to groom young women for sexual exploitation and


    This article details the links between sexual exploitation, drug
    use and drug dealing. Based on research carried out in South
    Yorkshire, it examines the use of drugs in the sexual exploitation
    of young people, sometimes for the purposes of prostitution, and
    the role of some drug dealers. It details the grooming process, a
    profile of such perpetrators and highlights some of the issues for
    agencies supporting young people.

    The issue of older men having sex with younger girls has been
    highlighted by the revelations of Ian Huntley’s predilection
    for under-age schoolgirls before his conviction for the murders of
    Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. There have also been other recent
    high-profile cases of older men being charged with child abduction
    following their disappearances with girls under 16.

    However, despite the public nature of these incidents, there are
    numerous cases of older men being sexually involved with under-age
    young people. Most cases do not come into the public arena, and
    rightly so. But the scale of the problem and the damage done to
    young people exploited by older men need to be highlighted, as do
    the links with drug use and drug dealing.

    There are several national approaches to combating sexual
    exploitation of young people, including action plans, legislation
    and inquiries (see panel, page 34). In South Yorkshire, research
    has been carried out into the links between sexual exploitation,
    drug use and drug dealing. The problems highlighted have been well
    documented in other areas and are not particular to South
    Yorkshire. Although established red light areas exist in two areas
    of  South Yorkshire, it is relatively rare for girls under 16 to be
    found working on the streets.

    However, in two areas, one of which does not have a street sex work
    scene, there are significant concerns about some men sexually
    exploiting young women, some for the purposes of prostitution.
    Specialist agencies have gathered only anecdotal and sketchy
    reports about the exploitation of boys and young men. Further
    research needs to be done regarding boys and young men who are at
    risk or who are being exploited.

    Grooming for abuse

    Drugs play a significant role in sexual exploitation. Class B drugs
    and alcohol are often used as part of the “grooming
    process”. Older men who have “befriended” young
    women often give them amphetamine, ecstasy, cannabis or alcohol.
    The effects of these substances on teenagers with little or no
    tolerance renders them vulnerable to sexual abuse.

    The young women may be flattered by the attention of older men and,
    although they may be frightened by what is happening, they hide
    their fear in an effort to appear more grown-up and attractive to
    the man. The man makes them believe he is their boyfriend and that
    he loves them, and may give them presents such as clothes and
    particularly mobile phones so that he can contact them

    The grooming continues in this way for a while, until the girl is
    quite besotted by the man and is easily manipulated. Once he has
    established a sexual relationship with her, he may then introduce
    her to his friends and tell her she has to sleep with them and that
    she would do it if she loved him. Another ploy may be that he owes
    money, and that he knows someone who would pay to have sex with
    her… that she would do it if she loved him. The abuse begins
    once the “courtship” phase of the grooming is over.
    Some young women have reported significant levels of harm being
    inflicted on them, including rape, physical assaults and emotional
    abuse. Once they have started having sex or have been taking drugs,
    they are vulnerable to the man blackmailing them by threatening to
    tell their parents or carers.

    The perpetrators are often criminals involved in several types of
    offending. Although the numbers within South Yorkshire are
    relatively few, the damage they can inflict is enormous. The
    research highlighted that nine of the main perpetrators in the
    county are believed to have been involved in property and car
    crime, gun crime, violence, witness intimidation and some
    immigration offences as well as sexual and violent offences against
    young women. All were reported to be heavily involved in dealing
    Class A drugs, although they did not all have convictions.

    These men are the new breed of pimps and dealers.1 Those who
    operate in red light districts inflict significant trauma on women
    who are involved in prostitution. Ten young women, referred to a
    specialist agency in one area of the county, reported a number of
    different offences including being kidnapped, driven around to have
    sex with different men, being raped, gang raped, and being in
    situations that involved Class A drugs, money and firearms. Some
    were also used to carry Class A drugs.

    Support for young people

    There are several problems associated with supporting young people
    who are being sexually exploited and achieving successful
    prosecutions against the men involved. The women are often seen as
    willing victims who go back to abusive situations however many
    times they are taken home. They are also often unwilling to make
    statements against the perpetrators. Sometimes this is because they
    do not want to inform on the man they believe is their boyfriend.
    But it is often because of threats, intimidation and violence
    against them, their family or friends.

    Parents often feel helpless in such situations, and may not feel
    that they receive enough help from statutory services.2 Successful
    prosecutions for many types of sexual offences are notoriously
    difficult, especially if the young person does not wish to make a

    This may change under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, with the
    introduction of hearsay evidence. Targeting offenders for other
    offences they are involved in, such as supplying drugs, is an
    option. If they are convicted and receive a substantial custodial
    sentence, young people may feel safer in giving evidence against
    them for sexual offences.

    Young people need substantial support to limit the damage that
    trauma can have on their lives. Specialist agencies that work with
    them to offer social services and child protection support,
    individual counselling, drug treatment interventions, and
    diversionary and educational support should be available. Many, but
    not all, of the young people already have complex needs and have
    experienced considerable difficulties in their young lives which in
    turn makes them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

    Improved information sharing between agencies, recognising the
    vulnerability of young people who are repeatedly missing from home,
    improved targeting of suspects and adequate long-term funding of
    services are some of the recommendations from the research
    conducted in South Yorkshire. Education and awareness training for
    those working with young people is equally essential in order to
    prevent or make early interventions for those who are at risk of
    becoming victims of sexual abuse or perpetrators.

    The issue of sexual exploitation and drugs is an area fraught with
    difficulties, but improved multi-agency working as well as an
    increasing public awareness of the issues for young people must be
    the way forward. CC

    Angie Heal (RGN, RMN, BA (Hons), MA) is a strategic drugs
    analyst. Having worked with drug users for a number of years, Angie
    Heal became a consultant and researcher in crime and drugs after
    gaining her masters degree in research methods. Although currently
    employed by South Yorkshire Police, she is funded by South
    Yorkshire partnerships to collate and disseminate information
    regarding drugs issues.

    1 T May, A Harocops, M Hough, For Love or Money: Pimps and the
    Management of Sex Work
    Police Research Series 134, 2000
    2 Iveson I, Fiona’s Story, Virago Press, 1997

    Further information

    T May, A Harocops, M Hough,  Street Business: The Links Between
    Sex and Drug Markets
    , Police Research Series Paper 118,

    Also and for
    more on legislation and initiatives to combat the exploitation of
    young people.

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