History is partly to blame: sexual exploitation has been part of society and has contributed to acts of prostitution; a sex industry for financial gains; distorted sexual thinking and behaviours and pre-conceived ideas.

Historically, we have seen government initiatives such as Safeguarding Children Involved in Prostitution (2000); The National Plan: safeguarding children from commercial exploitation (2001); The Sexual Offences Act 2003, implemented 1st May 2004; the Coordinated Prostitution Strategy (2006) and It’s not on the radar (Banardos, 20161).

Fast forward to today and national frameworks point to the following key documents:

  • Working together to safeguard children (2015)–2

  • Child sexual exploitation: definition and guide for practitioners (2017)

Only recently has child sexual exploitation been given full recognition as a category of child sexual abuse and with its own national recognised legal definition:

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) 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 (Department of Education, 2017).

Practitioners must keep at the forefront of their understanding that child sexual exploitation is about:

  • Control
  • Power
  • Grooming
  • Creating dependency
  • The perpetrator having total dominance over their victim(s)

When these things are present, the purpose is then ‘sexual’.  CSE can happen to boys and girls, in rural and urban geographical regions and occur face-to-face and online. It is a form of child abuse and should be treated as a child protection issue.

Technologies such as mobile phones, the internet, social networking sites and cameras are all features which facilitate the sexual exploitation of children. Why? …because they are easily accessible and they hide activity which makes communication easier, acting as a conduit between children and perpetrator(s).

Children are being sold online for sexual abuse and are being targeted via the internet for prostitution including cyber-sex. Children are groomed online for sexual abuse offline and are made the subject of child abuse images.

Child abuse is child sexual exploitation and should always be covered in safeguarding training. Whether this training is at a basic level or more focused CSE it is all part of the safeguarding agenda and does not stand alone.

Perpetrator routes for CSE activity come in many forms: ‘The Boyfriend Model’ (always consider the age difference; contextual nature of the relationship and cultural practices), family, organised crime, peer-to-peer, trafficking, slavery, gangs, opportunistic and technologies.

There have been many high profile CSE cases such as Rotherham, Oxford and Rochdale to name only a few. We need to set clear standards in what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behaviour in our society. Everyone in society should be treated fairly and must therefore be gender neutral and we must protect everyone equally.

There are many websites and organisations readily available today that provide expert and relevant information on CSE. Access it.

“There were many errors. Some organisations and some staff should have acted with more sensitivity, rigour, imagination or indeed common sense. Some processes and procedures should have been implemented much better, and the collective agency work around safeguarding before 2011 should have been much stronger. Over a number of years there were many signs of CSE of the type revealed in the Bullfinch trial, and whilst they were not recognised as ‘CSE’, the extreme nature of those signs required concerns to be escalated to top managers, but this did not happen. Even if what had been happening were unconnected individual cases, the effectiveness of professional work was not good enough. The abuse, as a result, continued for longer than could have been the case” (Oxford Safeguarding Children Board, SCR, 2015).