Child sexual exploitation has hit the headlines recently, and has even been depicted in our weekly soaps. Whilst most people have an idea of what is meant by the term, you would be forgiven if you didn’t have the whole picture.
Often, child sexual exploitation has been depicted as something that only happens to vulnerable young girls, often from broken homes or in care, manipulated and exploited by gangs of older men.
And whilst this does happen it is certainly not the only type of case.
In fact the majority of exploitation that happens does not involve gangs but individuals – who prey on vulnerable children and young people, by filling gaps that are missing in their lives.
In its simplest form child sexual exploitation is when someone uses a child or young person by manipulating them to give them sex or sexual favours in exchange for gifts, accommodation or the promise of love.
Often the offender will convince the young person that they care for them, grooming them with affection, gifts and lies in order to brainwash them so they ‘willingly’ do things that they wouldn’t normal consider – all in the name of love or fear.
One of the key parts of the grooming process is to try to isolate the young person from both their family and their usual friends; they aim to drive a wedge between you and your child, closing down the normal channels of communication and emotional bond between you both – this is particularly difficult to manage for parents as often a natural part of teenage behaviour is to argue or distance themselves from their parents in a bid for independence.
Sexual exploitation can happen to any child, regardless of gender or their family’s social situation. Children can be vulnerable for any number of reason – and not just because they have a tough home life.
Sexual exploitation often involves coercion, blackmail and intimidation. And once a young person has done things this is then used against them to encourage them to do more.
Indeed, some exploitation can happen without a child even meeting the perpetrator. It can happen online over the internet as young people chat online via social media. Here they can be persuaded to share intimate images of themselves without realising that the person on the end maybe isn’t who they seem, or is recording the ‘private’ exchange only to pass the images on to others.
But let’s be clear – sexual exploitation can happen to boys as well as girls, and just because your child is 16 doesn’t magically protect them.