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5.3 Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

The guidance in this chapter is taken from Government guidance documents as listed below. It should be read in conjunction with the Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) procedures regarding sexual exploitation of children and young people.

RELATED INFORMATION AND GUIDANCE

Child Sexual Exploitation: Definition and Guide for Practitioners (DfE, 2017)

What to do if You're Worried a Child is Being Abused: Advice for Practitioners (Suspect a Child is being Sexually Exploited)

Barnardos - Child Sexual Exploitation

Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation – The Rotherham Response (March 2015)

National Crime Agency - UK Human Trafficking Centre

Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation Action Plan (DfE, 2011)

Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation: Progress Report

Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation: A Resource Pack for Councils

Responding to Child Sexual Exploitation – College of Policing

Child Sexual Abuse – The Children’s Commissioner

Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) for the 21st Century, Brook, PSHE Association and Sex Education Forum (2014)

This guidance should be read in conjunction with the Berkshire Local Safeguarding Children Boards Procedures Manual, Child Sexual Exploitation Procedure.

AMENDMENT

Section 1, Definition was revised throughout in July 2018 to include additional information on the nature of child sexual exploitation and its impact on young people. Section 3, Indicators of Possible Sexual Exploitation was also included to reflect the complexity of child sexual exploitation, including situations where young people are both perpetrators and victims of abuse.


Contents

  1. Definition
  2. Risks
  3. Indicators of Possible Sexual Exploitation
  4. Children and Young People who go Missing
  5. Protection and Action to be Taken
  6. Issues
  7. Supporting Children and Young People out of Child Sexual Exploitation
  8. Identifying and Prosecuting Perpetrators
  9. Supporting Children and Young People through Related Legal Proceedings


1. Definition

Child sexual exploitation is a crime with devastating and long lasting consequences for its victims and their families. Childhoods and family life can be ruined and this is compounded when victims, or those at risk of abuse, do not receive appropriate, immediate and on-going support. The first response to children, and support for them to access help, must be the best it can be from social workers, residential care workers, police, health practitioners and others who work with children and their families.

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. Sexual abuse may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside clothing. It may include non-contact activities, such as involving children in the production of sexual images, forcing children to look at sexual images or watch sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet).

The definition of child sexual exploitation is as follows:

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology. See Working Together to Safeguard Children.

Like all forms of child sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation:

  • Can affect any child or young person (male or female) under the age of 18 years, including 16 and 17 year olds who can legally consent to have sex;
  • Can still be abuse even if the sexual activity appears consensual;
  • Can include both contact (penetrative and non-penetrative acts) and non-contact sexual activity;
  • Can take place in person or via technology, or a combination of both;
  • Can involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance and may, or may not, be accompanied by violence or threats of violence;
  • May occur without the child or young person’s immediate knowledge (through others copying videos or images they have created and posting on social media, for example);
  • Can be perpetrated by individuals or groups, males or females, and children or adults. The abuse can be a one-off occurrence or a series of incidents over time, and range from opportunistic to complex organised abuse; and
  • Is typified by some form of power imbalance in favour of those perpetrating the abuse. Whilst age may be the most obvious, this power imbalance can also be due to a range of other factors including gender, sexual identity, cognitive ability, physical strength, status, and access to economic or other resources.

Child sexual exploitation is a complex form of abuse which can be difficult for those working with children to identify and assess. The indicators for child sexual exploitation can sometimes be mistaken for ‘normal adolescent behaviours’. It requires knowledge, skills, professional curiosity and an assessment which analyses the risk factors and personal circumstances of individual children to ensure that the signs and symptoms are interpreted correctly and appropriate support is given. Even where a young person is old enough to legally consent to sexual activity, the law states that consent is only valid where they make a choice and have the freedom and capacity to make that choice. If a child feels they have no other meaningful choice, are under the influence of harmful substances or fearful of what might happen if they don’t comply (all of which are common features in cases of child sexual exploitation) consent cannot legally be given whatever the age of the child.

Child sexual exploitation is never the victim’s fault, even if there is some form of exchange: all children and young people under the age of 18 have a right to be safe and should be protected from harm.

For more information please see Child Sexual Exploitation: Definition and Guide for Practitioners (DfE 2017). This advice is non-statutory, and has been produced to help practitioners to identify child sexual exploitation and take appropriate action in response. This advice includes the management, disruption and prosecution of perpetrators.


2. Risks

Any child or young person may be at risk of sexual exploitation, regardless of their family background or other circumstances.

Sexual exploitation results in children and young people suffering harm, and causes significant damage to their physical and mental health. It can also have profound and damaging consequences for the child’s family. Parents and carers are often traumatised and under severe stress. Siblings can feel alienated and their self-esteem can be affected. Family members can themselves suffer serious threats of abuse, intimidation and assault at the hands of perpetrators.

There are strong links between children involved in sexual exploitation and other behaviours such as running away from home or care, bullying, self-harm, teenage pregnancy, truancy and substance misuse. In addition, some children are particularly vulnerable, for example, children with special needs, those in residential or foster care, those leaving care, migrant children, unaccompanied asylum seeking children, victims of forced marriage and those involved in gangs.

There is also often a presumption that children are sexually exploited by people they do not know. However evidence shows that this is often not the case and children are often sexually exploited by people with whom they feel they have a relationship, e.g. a boyfriend / girlfriend. Children are often persuaded that the boyfriend / girlfriend is their only true form of support and encouraged to withdraw from their friends and family and to place their trust only within the relationship.

Many children and young people are groomed into sexually exploitative relationships but other forms of entry exist. Some young people are engaged in informal economies that incorporate the exchange of sex for rewards such as drugs, alcohol, money or gifts. Others exchange sex for accommodation or money as a result of homelessness and experiences of poverty. Some young people have been bullied, coerced and threatened into sexual activities by peers or gang members, which is then used against them as a form of extortion and to keep them compliant.

Due to the nature of the grooming methods used by their abusers, it is very common for children and young people who are sexually exploited not to recognise that they are being abused. Practitioners should be aware that particularly young people aged 16 and 17 may believe themselves to be acting voluntarily and will need practitioners to work with them so they can recognise that they are being sexually exploited. This is not an issue, which affects only girls and young women, but boys and young men are also exploited. However, they often may experience other barriers to disclosure.

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It can take many forms from the seemingly ‘consensual’ relationship where sex is exchanged for attention, accommodation or gifts, to serious organised crime and child trafficking. (Human trafficking is the movement of a person from one place to another into conditions of exploitation, using deception, coercion, the abuse of power or the abuse of someone’s vulnerability).

What marks out exploitation is an imbalance of power within the relationship. The perpetrator always holds some kind of power over the victim, increasing the dependence of the victim as the exploitative relationship develops.

Technology such as mobile phones or social networking sites can play a part in sexual exploitation, for example, through their use to record abuse and share it with other like-minded individuals or as a medium to access children and young people in order to groom them.

Sexual exploitation has strong links with other forms of crime, for example, domestic violence and abuse, online and offline grooming, the distribution of abusive images of children and child trafficking.

The perpetrators of sexual exploitation are often well organised and use sophisticated tactics. They are known to target areas where children and young people gather without much adult supervision, e.g. parks, takeaway outlets or shopping centres or sites on the Internet.

Children and young people may have already been sexually exploited before they are referred to Children’s Social Care; others may become targets of perpetrators whilst living at home or during placements. They can often be the focus of perpetrators of sexual abuse due to their vulnerability. All practitioners and foster carers should therefore create an environment which educates children and young people about child sexual exploitation, involving relevant outside agencies where appropriate. They should encourage children to discuss any concerns with them, or with someone from a specialist child sexual exploitation project, and also be encouraged to share any concerns about their friends.

Consent

This extract from The Office of the Commissioner for Children (OCC) Inquiry into CSE in Gangs and Groups (Nov 2012) helps to consider issues around consent.

"The law not only sets down 16 as the age of consent, it also applies to whether a person has given their consent to sexual activity, or was able to give their consent, or whether sexual violence and rape in particular took place. In the context of child sexual exploitation, the term 'consent' refers to whether or not a child understands how one gives consent, withdraws consent and what situations (such as intoxication, duress, violence) can compromise the child or young person's ability to consent freely to sexual activity."

Practitioners must also consider other factors which might influence the ability of the person to give consent, e.g. learning disability / mental ill health. Young people under the age of 16 cannot legally consent to sexual activity. Sexual intercourse with children under the age of 13 is statutory rape. A child under 18 cannot consent to their own abuse through exploitation.


3. Indicators of Possible Sexual Exploitation

This guidance should be read in conjunction with the Child Sexual Exploitation Indicator Tool contained in Berkshire Local Safeguarding Children Boards Procedures Manual, Child Sexual Exploitation Procedure, Child Sexual Exploitation Indicator Tool.

Anyone who has regular contact with children is in a good position to notice changes in behaviour and physical signs that may indicate involvement in sexual exploitation.

Parents carers and anyone in a position of responsibility with a child should also know how to monitor online activity and be prepared to - monitor computer usage where they are suspicious that a child is being groomed online.

The fact that a young person is 16 or 17 years old should not be taken as a sign they are no longer at risk of sexual exploitation.

Young people with a disability may have increased vulnerability as well as young people up to the age of 21 who were looked after for whom the local authority has statutory care leaver responsibility and / or where there may be child in need and/or child protection issues.

Barnardo's 'Puppet on a String' report 2011 sets out three different models of activity in the spectrum of sexual exploitation:

Inappropriate relationships Usually involving one perpetrator who has inappropriate power or control over a young person (physical emotional or financial). One indicator may be a significant age gap. The young person may believe they are in a loving relationship.
'Boyfriend' model of exploitation and peer exploitation

The perpetrator befriends and grooms a young person into a 'relationship' and then coerces or forces them to have sex with friends or associates.

Peer exploitation is where young people are forced or coerced into sexual activity by peers and associates. Sometimes this can be associated with gang activity, but not always.
Organised / networked sexual exploitation or trafficking Young people (often connected) are passed through networks, possibly over geographical distances, between towns and cities where they may be forced / coerced into sexual activity with multiple men. Often this occurs in 'sex parties', and young people who are involved may be used as agents to recruit others into the network. Some of this activity is described as serious organised crime and can involve the organised 'buying and selling' of young people by perpetrators.

Staff and foster carers should receive training on child sexual exploitation, and therefore be aware of the key indicators of child sexual exploitation. They include:

Health

  • Physical symptoms (bruising suggestive of either physical or sexual assault);
  • Chronic fatigue;
  • Recurring or multiple sexually transmitted infections;
  • Pregnancy and/or seeking an abortion;
  • Evidence of drug, alcohol or other substance misuse;
  • Risky sexual behaviour.

Education

  • Truancy/disengagement with education or noticeable change in performance at school.

Emotional and Behavioural Issues

  • Volatile behaviour exhibiting extreme array of mood swings or use of abusive language;
  • Involvement in petty crime such as shoplifting, stealing;
  • Secretive behaviour;
  • Entering or leaving in vehicles driven by people who are not known to staff;
  • Reports of being seen in places known to be used for sexual exploitation, including takeaway restaurants, and shopping centres.

Identity

  • Low self-image, low self-esteem, self-harming behaviour, e.g. cutting, overdosing, or eating disorder.

Relationships

  • Hostility in relationships with staff, family members as appropriate and significant others;
  • Physical aggression;
  • Placement breakdown;
  • Reports from reliable sources (e.g. family, friends or other professionals) suggesting the likelihood of involvement in sexual exploitation;
  • Detachment from age-appropriate activities;
  • Associating with other young people who are known to be sexually exploited;
  • Sexual relationship with a significantly older person, or younger person who is suspected of being abusive;
  • Excessive receipt of phone calls or text messages;
  • Adults or older youths loitering outside the home;
  • Persistently missing, staying out overnight or returning late with no plausible explanation;
  • Going missing and being found in areas where they have no known links.

Please note: Whilst the focus has often been on older men as perpetrators, younger men and women may also be involved and staff should always be mindful of this.

Social Presentation

  • Change in appearance;
  • Going out dressed in clothing unusual for them (inappropriate for age, borrowing clothing from older young people).

Family and Environmental Factors

  • History of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse; neglect; domestic violence; parental difficulties.

Housing

  • Pattern of previous street homelessness;
  • Having keys to premises other than those known about.

Income

  • Possession of large amounts of money with no plausible explanation;
  • Acquisition of expensive clothes, mobile phones or other possessions without plausible explanation;
  • Accounts of social activities with no plausible explanation of the source of necessary funding.

This list is not exhaustive.

Staff and foster carers should be aware that often children and young people who are sexually exploited do not see themselves as victims. In such situations, discussions with them about concerns should be handled with great sensitivity.  Seeking prior advice from specialist agencies may be useful. This should be done without disclosing personal, identifiable information.

In assessing whether a child or young person is being sexually exploited , or at risk of sexual exploitation, careful consideration should be given to the issue of consent. It is important to bear in mind that:

  • A child under the age of 13 is not legally capable of consenting to sex (it is statutory rape) or any other type of sexual touching;
  • Sexual activity with a child under 16 is also an offence;
  • It is an offence for a person to have a sexual relationship with a 16 or 17 year old if they hold a position of trust or authority in relation to them;
  • While sexual activity with a 16 or 17 year old is not in itself a criminal offence, it may still be exploitative if the young person’s consent has not been freely given (e.g. as a result of intoxication or threats of violence);
  • Non-consensual sex is rape whatever the age of the victim; and
  • Child sexual exploitation is therefore potentially a safeguarding and child protection issue for all children under the age of 18 years and not just those in a specific age group.

Children can be both experiencing child sexual exploitation and perpetrating it at the same time. Examples might include a child who is forced to take part in the exploitation of another child under duress, or a child who is forced to introduce other children to their abuser under threats to their family’s safety. These situations require a nuanced approach that recognises and engages with the young person’s perpetration within the context of their own victimisation.

The child sexual exploitation training staff and foster carers receive should also include what information should be given to the police in such cases, for example vehicle registration numbers, names, physical descriptions. It may also include what action staff should take in the case of suspected sexual or physical abuse in order to protect potential evidence, which may be useful in the case of an alleged perpetrator being prosecuted.


4. Children and Young People who go Missing

A significant number of children and young people who are being sexually exploited may go Missing from home or care, and education. Some go missing frequently; the more often they go missing the more vulnerable they are to being sexually exploited. If a child does go missing, the Children Missing from Home or Care Procedure should be followed.

Independent Return Interviews with the child or young person can help in establishing why they went missing and the subsequent support that may be required, as well as preventing repeat incidents. Information gathered from return interviews can be used to inform the identification, Referral and Assessment of any child sexual exploitation cases.


5. Protection and Action to be Taken

Where a member of staff or foster carer is concerned that a child or young person is involved in, or at risk of, sexual exploitation, they should contact the allocated social worker, or in their absence the social work team manager at the earliest opportunity. If neither can be contacted or no response is received, they should contact the referral and assessment team, children’s social care. Staff or foster carers should also contact the police, if they are concerned a crime has been, or may be, committed.

If, following Assessment, the social worker and their manager decide action needs to be taken to protect the child, the Slough Safeguarding Children Board procedures will be instigated. This may include notifying the police regarding possible criminal offences.

Foster carers should also contact their social worker / fostering agency at the earliest opportunity, or for advice if they first want to discuss their concerns.

The child sexual exploitation lead within Children’s Social Care must be informed of the outcome of any Section 47 Enquiry and the Assessment.

Where immediate action to safeguard a child is required, it may involve removing the child from the home of a person who is exploiting them to a safe place. However, those working with children in these circumstances must never underestimate the power of perpetrators to find where the child is.

Such children will need placements with carers who have experience of building trusting relationships and skills at containing young people.

A decision to place a child or young person in secure accommodation should only be considered in extreme circumstances, when they are at grave risk of Significant Harm. In cases where the child is under the age of 13, the approval of the Secretary of State must be sought.

Children who are looked after by the Local Authority can be more vulnerable to exploitation. Substitute carers must be able to recognise the possible indicators of child sexual exploitation. Looked after children are subject to the same child protection procedures as those who live with their own families. However their needs may be different and for this reason their Independent Reviewing Officer must be kept informed of any concerns relating to child sexual exploitation or any other form of suspected abuse. The child / young person's Care Plan must include a strategy to keep them safe and it must be updated and reviewed regularly.


6. Issues

Working with sexually exploited children is a complex issue which can involve serious crime and investigations over a wide geographical area.

Children may be frightened of the consequences of disclosure and may need to be given time to discuss their experiences.

The need to share information discreetly in a timely fashion has been shown to be vital in these cases.

Agencies and practitioners involved with a child or young person experiencing child sexual exploitation must consider disruption strategies which support the child or young person to leave the situation they find themselves in.

The prosecution and disruption of perpetrators is an essential part of the process in reducing harm. It is the responsibility of the police to gather evidence, investigate and interview perpetrators and prepare case files for consideration by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) with the intention of obtaining the successful conviction of offenders.

Many child sexual exploitation cases cross police force boundaries and therefore there should be cross boundary cooperation and information sharing. This may involve the National Crime Agency's CEOP Command (formerly Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) who can support the police by helping to coordinate cross-boundary or international investigations involving child sex offender networks or in the management of high risk offenders which may involve grooming through chat rooms and social networking sites or involvement with paedophile rings.

7. Supporting Children and Young People out of Child Sexual Exploitation

Staff from statutory agencies and voluntary sector organisations together with the child or young person, foster carers, and their family as appropriate, should agree on the services and support which will provided to them and how they will be coordinated. The types of intervention offered should be appropriate to the young person’s individual needs and should take full account of identified risk factors and their individual circumstances.

Advice should be sought from the nearest specialist service which works with children and young people involved in child sexual exploitation. A referral should be made as appropriate, if the child or young person is in agreement.

For children who are Looked After issues raised and actions planned should be incorporated into the child’s Care Plan and Placement Plan, and reviewed as part of the Looked After Child Review.

Because the effects of child sexual exploitation can last well into adulthood, support may be required over a long period of time. In such circumstances, effective links should be made between children and adult services and statutory and voluntary organisations. For young people who are Looked After, this should be incorporated into their Pathway Plan


8. Identifying and Prosecuting Perpetrators

The police and criminal justice agencies lead on the identification and prosecution of perpetrators. All practitioners, however, have a role in gathering, recording and sharing information with the police and other agencies, as appropriate and in agreement with them.

Staff and foster carers should bear in mind that sexual exploitation often does not occur in isolation and has links to other crime types, including:

  • Child trafficking (into, out of and within the UK);
  • Domestic Violence and Abuse;
  • Sexual violence in intimate relationships;
  • Grooming (both online and offline);
  • Abusive images of children and their distribution (organised abuse);
  • Organised sexual abuse of children;
  • Drugs-related offences (dealing, consuming and cultivating);
  • Gang-related activity;
  • Immigration-related offences;
  • Domestic servitude.


9. Supporting Children and Young People through Related Legal Proceedings

Where alleged perpetrators are arrested and charged with offences against children or young people, allocated staff and foster carers should ensure the young people concerned are supported throughout the prosecution process and beyond. Specialist agencies should also be involved in supporting the child or young person, as required. This may include using special measures to protect them when giving evidence in court for example. Independent Sexual Violence Advisers or specialist voluntary sector services, if available, may also have an important role to play.

End