Child sexual exploitation doesn’t just refer to the sexual abuse of children, it’s also a form of emotional and physical abuse. CSE should be regarded more as a process of ‘grooming’ a young person rather than a specific act. This usually starts with the child receiving gifts (like alcohol, mobile phones or affection) before or as a result of performing sexual activities or having sexual activities performed on them. The grooming process is designed to break down a child’s defences and existing relationships with friends and family in order to establish control. Here’s an overview of what it looks like.
The process of CSE
It’s almost like a process of recruitment in which the victims are indoctrinated to a lifestyle they are coerced to believe is normal or which they should be grateful for.
- The first step of initial contact can be direct or through friends, neighbours or classmates. This can happen at school, in the community (ie. leisure clubs, shopping malls), on public transport or even in the family home.
- After initial contact, the child is often introduced to one or more older men (or in some cases women) posing as brothers, cousins or family friends. The child is essentially befriended by the group, providing her with alcohol, cigarettes or drugs and making her feel special and accepted as part of a group of adults. What follows is coercive, deceptive behaviour to encourage continued contact – perhaps with the threat that if she doesn’t there will be consequences. For example, telling teachers/family about her drinking when she should have been at home or at school.
- After befriending the child, she often feels infatuated with the older man and regards him as a boyfriend. Remember, these are mostly young pre-teens/adolescents who want to be regarded as adults and are made to feel as such by the seductive behaviours of older men. The young person can’t see past their infatuation and it’s usually at this point that the man seeks sexual favours for himself and others, which the child is expected to perform to demonstrate their love or repay the kindness shown during the befriending stage. The act itself can be enormously shaming for the child, shame which is then used to prevent them seeking help.
- If a child expresses unwillingness, the perpetrators will make threats to gain control. This could involve threats of violence (or violence itself), threats towards the young person’s friends and family, or photographing the child performing sexual acts and blackmailing them to continue for fear of sharing the pictures.
The perpetrators coerce a child to alienate herself from friends and family, severing links and therefore support measures. Exploitation is present at every stage of this process, whether it’s exploiting mutual contacts to make an approach, exploiting a child’s desire to be an adult or feel like one, or exploiting their understanding of healthy relationships.
What can we do?
Educating our children on what constitutes healthy and unhealthy relationships will go some way to reducing the risk of exploitation. There are lots of resources available for parents (Safe and Sound and PACE are two we recommend), and in July last year the government announced that children as young as four will be taught about sexual relationships and consent.
It's so important to recognise that children are the victims here. The child will probably feel like their abuser is providing a form of exclusive affection that no one else can provide, and which the child feels will be absent from their life in the absence of the perpetrator.
If you or someone you know has been affected by this, you can seek counselling and support from the NSPCC by calling 0808 800 5000. You can also contact ChildLine on 0800 11 11, a free 24-hour helpline offering support for any kind of problem.
If you are a parent or carer you can seek confidential help and advice by calling PACE on 0113 240 5226.
We are supporting #CSEDay19. Let’s adopt a zero tolerance to the abuse of children.
Healing Pasts | Building Futures