Professionals shouldn’t believe there’s only one type of child sexual exploitation victim

Javed Khan outlines the messages for professionals from new research on child sexual exploitation

by Javed Khan

High profile child sexual exploitation cases (CSE) like those in Rotherham and Rochdale have led many people to assume that all CSE victims are white British girls. But it’s not the case.

Worryingly, this stereotype highlighted in our report ‘It’s not on the radar’, means that some front-line workers may be missing children affected by CSE.

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You can learn more about identifying diverse victims of child sexual exploitation on Community Care Inform’s CSE knowledge and practice hub.

A roundtable of relevant experts identified that a better understanding of the diversity of CSE victims in England is essential to tackling this vile form of child abuse. Professionals must cast their net wider to identify all children who have been sexually exploited, or are at risk.

Evidence shows CSE affects children regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, faith, disability, background or upbringing.

Looking beyond stereotypes

It is important for professionals to look beyond stereotypes and ask the right questions. It could include questioning certain situations, like why an adolescent boy is ‘hanging out’ with a grown man. The professional should think: ‘If this was a girl, would I think the same way?’

Monitoring for sexuality and gender identity is also key for professionals, and they should be supported with training if necessary.

Children, young people and parents also need to be more aware that not every CSE case is like the ones they see on the news, where most of the perpetrators are males, and most victims are white girls.

There is a risk that, if people on the frontline focus on the group or boyfriend/girlfriend models of CSE the media has focused on, other children being exploited might not be recognised.

Different groups

Research in and outside of the UK shows children and young people with a disability are three times more likely to be abused than children without a disability. One in five children we help in our own services are male victims. In addition, young people questioning their sexuality and searching for advice may be more vulnerable to being groomed online.

Professionals need to receive training to help them identify children who have experienced, or are at risk of CSE. This should include:

  • recognising learning disabilities and that a young person’s real age may be different to their developmental age and therefore at odds with their experience of relationships.
  • identifying boys having sex with older women or men. We need to change the prevalent attitude that boys should be grateful, rather than see it for the child abuse it is.
  • not focusing on just one ethnic community to the detriment of the others.
  • realising that girls can be sexually exploited by older females under the guise of being in a friendship.

It’s vital that young people, families and experts understand that CSE can affect any child or young person. Assumptions must not be made when trying to identify sexual exploitation as each victim has their own vulnerabilities.

Recognising the diversity of victims will help ensure CSE victims are identified and get the support they so desperately need.

Javed Khan is chief executive of Barnardo’s

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