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Sexual Health Week 2020

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"Let’s Talk About Sex – Child Sexual Exploitation"

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This is the 12th annual Dumfries and Galloway Sexual Health Awareness Week, which aims to get people talking about Sexual Health and Wellbeing, with a particular focus each year on an emerging theme or issue for partner organisations and the wider public.

A Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Awareness Raising Campaign was launched in Dumfries and Galloway in March 2019 to coincide with National CSE Awareness Day. Developed with partners from NHS, Council and Police, the campaign is running in partnership with NSPCC Scotland.

The campaign – It Happens Here – throughout the year has been highlighting the issue of CSE among children, young people, parents, carers, practitioners and the wider community. Using a preventative approach, it has detailed how to spot the signs of this type of abuse and where to go for help. This has encouraged children and young people to think about what a healthy relationship looks like and to speak out if they have concerns or feel like they are being forced to do something they are not comfortable with.

What is CSE?

  1. CSE is a form of sexual abuse that involves the manipulation and/or coercion of young people under the age of 18 into sexual activity in exchange for things such as money, gifts, accommodation, affection, or status.
  2. CSE can occur through use of technology without the child’s immediate recognition, for example the persuasion to post sexual images on the internet/mobile phones with no immediate payment or gain.
  3. The child or young person often does not recognise the coercive nature of the relationship and is tricked into believing they are in a loving and consensual relationship. This is called grooming. They often trust their abuser and do not see themselves as a victim of exploitation.

Who does CSE affect?

All children and young people under the age of 18 from all walks of life are at risk of CSE, even with no pre-identified vulnerabilities. While younger children can also experience CSE, this form of abuse is most frequently documented amongst those of a post-primary age, with the average age at which concerns are first identified being 12-15 years of age.

Most identified cases of CSE relate to young females, however young males can also experience CSE; their abuse can more often be overlooked. The same identification challenges can be observed in relation to black and minority ethnic children, disabled children and those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex.

Who are the perpetrators of CSE?

Controversial to what the media suggests, anybody can be a perpetrator of CSE, no matter their background, age, gender or ethnicity.  They can operate as individuals, informal networks or organised groups specifically set up for CSE purposes. Although most are male, women can also be involved in sexually exploiting children. For instance, women will sometimes be involved through befriending victims. Children and young people who are exploited may also be used to 'find' or coerce others to join groups to be sexually exploited.

What are the signs of CSE?

It may be difficult to differentiate between ordinary teenage behaviour and the risk of or involvement in sexual exploitation, however there are some signs that may signify that young people are being groomed for sexual exploitation or are being sexually exploited. In the early stages of grooming, young people at risk often do not display behaviours which suggest that something negative is happening to them. In fact, behaviours may be initially positive, as the young person believes they are in the midst of a blossoming romance. Perpetrators are often skilled at boosting the exploited young person’s ego and making them feel cared for and loved. In the early stages, they may seem newly happy and confident. However once these emotions wear off, young people adopt a variety of coping methods to deal with what’s happening to them. The key is to look out for behaviours that are uncharacteristic.

To see a list of signs:

What does CSE look like in practice?

CSE can be a hidden crime. Whilst CSE is not a specific criminal offence in itself, there are ranges of criminal and civil options that can be used to prosecute perpetrators of this form of sexual abuse. Young people may be groomed into trusting their abuser and may not understand that they're being abused. They may depend on their abuser and be too scared to tell anyone what is happening because they do not want to get them in trouble or risk losing them. They may be tricked into believing they are in a loving, consensual relationship. Some young people are trafficked into or within the UK, including within local towns and villages, for sexual exploitation.

What does CSE look like online?

When sexual exploitation happens online, young people may be persuaded or forced to:

Abusers may threaten to send images, video or copies of conversations to the young person's friends and family unless they take part in further sexual activity. Images or videos may continue to be shared long after the sexual abuse has stopped.

What can you do to prevent CSE?

Supporting children and young people to understand healthy relationships and consent is key to preventing exploitation. The health and wellbeing curriculum in schools supports this. Parents/carers, family members and staff who work with children and young people can all support this learning at home and in other informal settings.

As staff and volunteers across all services, having an understanding of CSE and being aware of the signs will enable us to be vigilant when working with children and young people. Find out more by watching this short film by local NHS staff:

What should I do if I am worried about a child or young person?

If you are worried that a child or young person may be at risk of, or is experiencing, CSE please speak to the Child Protection Advisor within your organisation. Concerns can also be logged directly with the Multi-agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) by dialling 030 33 33 3001. If you think a child or young person is in immediate danger, dial 999 and speak to the Police.