Child Sexual Exploitation

Child Sexual Exploitation

What is child sexual exploitation?

The National Working Group for Sexually Exploited Children and Young People developed the following definition in 2008 which is utilised in UK government guidance and policy:

The sexual exploitation of children and young people under 18 involves exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where young people (or a third person or persons) receive ‘something’ (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of performing, and/or others performing on them, sexual activities.

Child sexual exploitation 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. In all cases those exploiting the child/young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources.

The Young Women’s Group, New Horizons: 2008 (the nia project & The Children Society) defined sexual exploitation as:

Some one taking advantage of you sexually, for their own benefit.

Through threats, bribes, violence, humiliation, or by telling you that they love you, they will have the power to get you to do sexual things for their own, or other people’s benefit or enjoyment (including: touching or kissing private parts, sex, taking sexual photos)


Child sexual exploitation is a major child protection issue for communities across the UK. Hidden from view and going unnoticed, vulnerable young girls and boys are targeted, groomed and then systematically abused, leaving them traumatised and scarred for life.   

Child sexual exploitation is illegal activity by people who have power over young people and use it to sexually abuse them. However, of the 17,000 reported cases of sexual offences involving children under 16 in 2011, just 4,000 went to trial, according to the Crown Prosecution Service. That’s just under a quarter of all reported cases. And according to NSPCC research, a third (34%) of children who are sexually abused do not tell anyone at all about it, let alone report it to the police. An investigation by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre found that a third (35%) of the child victims of street-grooming last year were in care when they were abused.

When children do summon up the courage to disclose they are met with confusion and a lack of co-ordination amongst agencies designed to offer these vulnerable children help and support. As a society we need to raise our awareness of this crime against the most vulnerable and afford them the support and protection they deserve.

So what can we do to prevent such abuses taking place?

The head of the Crown Protection Service , Alison Saunders, suggested that public perceptions themselves are often to blame for the failure to secure more convictions of suspected rapists such as the “demonisation” of women who drink, for example, or those who had previously had a relationship with the accused.   “You can see how some members of the jury can come along with preconceived ideas. They might still subscribe to the myths and stereotypes that we have all had a go at busting,” says Saunders in the Guardian newspaper, who has introduced training in an attempt to  counteract these stereotypes and identify the vulnerable and those likely to prey on them.

Worryingly, younger victims are now being targeted. In only a few years, the average age has dropped from 15 to 13. The children’s charity, Barnardo’s have identified children as young as 10 who have been subjected to sexual exploitation. Perpetrators of these crimes are becoming increasingly sophisticated; using the internet to protect their identity and trafficking children around the country to avoid detection.

Nazir Afzal, the newly appointed chief crown prosecutor for the North West, who was responsible for bringing the Rochdale perpetrators of the sexual exploitation of young girls to trial, believes that more discussion about sexual assault and understanding for the victims will lead to a greater conviction rate, and will encourage more women and children to come forward. “Sexual assault is the great silent crime of our time and the silence makes it invidious. It’s the kind of crime that prefers darkness and we need to shine a light on it, and for that we all share a responsibility. Every community worker, professional and neighbour has a duty not to stay silent.”

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre states that child exploitation spans all cultures and ethnicities. Whilst the Rochdale case highlight that Asian males have been involved in an organised manner in exploiting young women, other  cases involve offenders from different backgrounds as well. Focusing on the ethnicity of the men convicted of child sex offences in Rochdale detracts from the real issue: this was ultimately about the strong preying on the weak.


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