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KJSA logoChild Sexual Exploitation

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Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a complex issue; it can happen to any child from any ethnic group or family background in any area of Kirklees. Each victim has a different experience but there are precursors that may put children at increased vulnerability to exploitation.

The effects of CSE can be felt across the life course, it affects the ability of the victim to engage in new relationships, take care of themselves and relate to those around them. However, CSE is often picked up or recognised through its effects and issues like substance misuse, potential contact with the criminal justice system and employment issues. 

Why is this issue important?

Child sexual exploitation is a type of child sexual abuse. Sexually exploited children and young people have a range of issues associated with social, physical and emotional wellbeing. Some of these factors may have been a precursor to the exploitation; others may be an effect of it.

CSE affects children and young people of all backgrounds and from all communities, right across Kirklees. The number of children known to be experiencing varying degrees of risk of CSE is around 80 in Kirklees. However this is likely to be only a fraction of actual victims, due in part to issues with victims recognising themselves as such.

Sexual exploitation erodes self-esteem within victims, which can lead to acts of self-harm, such as self-inflicted injury, overdosing and eating disorders. It can put the young person at increased risk of sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancy and abortion, as well as long-term sexual and reproductive health problems. It can affect the entire life course of the victim and those around them.

Models of child sexual exploitation [1] include:

  • Inappropriate relationships involving a sole perpetrator who has inappropriate power or control over a child and uses this to sexually exploit them. 
  • The ‘boyfriend’ model in which the victim believes themselves to be in a loving relationship, but the exploiter coerces them to have sex with others. 
  • Peer exploitation, where a child is forced by peers into sexual activity with a number of other children. 
  • Organised sexual exploitation in which networks of perpetrators share children around for forced sexual activity with multiple rapists.

The effects or disclosure of CSE may not be apparent for many months or years. There are likely to be a group of adults over 18 who have been sexually exploited and even continue to be so.

Studies [2] have explored the relationship between childhood abuse and later health concerns. Research has found that childhood abuse contributes to the increased likelihood of depression, low self-esteem, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), problems with family functioning, anxiety disorders, addictions, personality disorders, eating disorders, sexual disorders and suicidal behaviour.

The negative impact of child abuse on adult mental health has been well documented; numerous studies have shown the link between child abuse and mental illness in later life [3]. At present, there is no single diagnosis or condition that describes the psychological effects of child abuse. When in contact with mental health services, many adult survivors of child abuse find themselves diagnosed with multiple psychological conditions.

CSE can leave a legacy of trauma. The lives of CSE victims might feature frequent crises, job disappointments, substance misuse, failed relationships, financial, housing and health setbacks. Many are the result of unresolved CSE issues often preventing the establishment of regularity, predictability and consistency.

What significant factors are affecting this issue?

Many children face adversity at home, school and emotionally growing up. The difference with those affected by CSE is contact with a perpetrator.

As part of recent development work, an independent review of local cases was undertaken. Its purpose was to understand the journey of CSE victims and the personal impacts of the exploitation itself.

Precursors – what was going on around the victim prior to sexual exploitation?

Understanding the issues and pressures going on around a CSE victim before experiencing any exploitation is a powerful insight. The home life of the victim, behaviour of people at home and relationships between the victim and others at home all play a part in the likelihood of the victim to become exploited.

Alongside difficult relationships between the victims at those at home, the parents or carers often had complex issues going on in their own lives. Domestic abuse, parental mental health issues, parental drug misuse and parental offending; were all seen to varying degrees in cases that were reviewed.

Emotional wellbeing and behaviour or anger issues were dominant in a high proportion of cases, as both a cause and effect of poor relationships at home.

Multiples of Risk – what risks are present during suspected exploitation?

The multiples of risk part of the review looked at issues that were present during or following potential instances of exploitation.

The most common risk factor seen in the cases related to victims going missing with a large proportion of cases having repeated missing episodes. This was closely followed by absenteeism from school. This occurred throughout many of the cases, often escalating in frequency and duration as other behaviours such as offending, alcohol and substance misuse became more of a feature in the cases.

There were examples where the child had already been the victim of sexual abuse within the family or through familial connections. There were also victims that had some learning disability; there were issues of coercion due to the increased vulnerability in such cases. 

Bereavement was also a factor, a loss of a role model or close relation is seen nationally as an increased risk to vulnerability in potential CSE victims.

Vulnerability through the internet was a factor in half of cases, online befriending and then later arranging to meet or blackmail where images were shared and then distribution threatened by the perpetrator were common tactics. This coupled with parents not recognising the risks posed by naïve use of the internet increases risk to the victims.

Poor emotional health and issues with self-esteem were seen in half of all cases as was self-harm and thoughts of or attempts at suicide.

Children who were looked after featured in the cases. Firstly children who were looked after became victims because they were missing, in risky locations or misusing substances. The second group became looked after because they were involved in CSE, parents or carers could not cope or manage the behaviour of the child and the issues around going missing, offending and substance misuse. There were also examples where victims were in effect recruited into exploitative relationships by other children.

There was no single type of grooming that led to exploitation in the review. The circumstances ranged from online recruitment, cases of befriending by perpetrators whilst socialising with friends, to being recruited by friends into exploitative situations. Victims were at increased vulnerability in some cases because of the locations they used socially. There were also clear examples of the boyfriend model where perceived normal sexual relationship becomes one of abuse or “sharing” the victim with other perpetrators in exchange for goods or as payment for other debts.

Victim recognition

Only in 1 in 10 victims were likely to acknowledge they had been exploited. The chaos around victims often masks the emotional effects of exploitation and instead factors such as being missing, absent, offending or misusing substances dominate the lives of the victims.

Which groups are most affected by this issue?

Any child or young person may be at risk of sexual exploitation, regardless of their family background, social or other circumstances. This includes boys and young men as well as girls and young women. However, some groups are particularly vulnerable. These include those who have poor relationships at home, children who have a history of running away or of going missing from home or care, those with special needs, those in and leaving residential and foster care, children who have disengaged from education, children who are using drugs and alcohol, and those involved in crime [4].

Where is this causing greatest concern?


  • Anyone from anywhere can be a victim of sexual exploitation.
  • CSE can happen to boys as well as girls.
  • CSE can happen to young people of all races and backgrounds. 

What are the assets around the issue?

Health assets are those things that enhance the ability of individuals, communities and populations to maintain and sustain health and well-being. These include things like skills, capacity, knowledge, networks and connections, the effectiveness of groups and organisations and local physical and economic resources. They also include services or interventions that are already being provided or beginning to emerge which contribute to improved health and wellbeing outcomes.

Assets are hugely important to how we feel about ourselves, the strength of our social and community connections and how these shape our health and wellbeing.

As part of our KJSA development we are piloting a range of methods to capture and understand the assets that are active in Kirklees. Please see the assets overview section for more information about our approach and if you are interested in place-based information about assets in Kirklees have a look at the assets section in each of our District Committee summaries (Batley and Spen, Dewsbury and Mirfield, Huddersfield and Kirklees Rural). Where possible and appropriate we will provide information about local assets supporting people across different stages of the life course.

For CSE, we should begin talking about a journey from being a victim to becoming a survivor. There are many reasons to use the term survivor and not victim when talking about CSE. The term victim could imply passivity, acceptance of circumstances, and the requirement to be treated differently. Survivor reiterates the individual’s resilience, ingenuity, resourcefulness and the ability to take action in the face of adversity.

The effects of the sexual exploitation can last long into adulthood. Recovery is possible but it is difficult and support is needed on the journey. This support can come from those who are already on the survivor journey, individuals who really understand the pull of emotions and the impacts of CSE. These survivors are key assets in improving the support for new victims and working with professionals to eradicate the issue.

The strength of positive family relationships at home is a protective asset. Where family relationships are known to be poor, proactive work to strengthen this asset would be a useful preventative approach. 

What could commissioners and service planners consider? 

Build on existing community assets - It is important that commissioners, service planners and Councillors understand and consider local community assets such as those outlined above. This should be done on an ongoing basis so that they can support and build on local strengths and also understand where there are gaps and unmet needs in particular places or amongst particular communities.

Prevention and diversionary activities – where precursors are apparent lower risk victims can be diverted away from or supported to choose a route out of CSE.

Relationship rebuilding support – Where victims are supported to reconnect with those whom the CSE has isolated them from; such as family members and friends.

Sexual health guidance – This would address the sexual health needs of the victim, and emotional aspects of future relationships.

Therapeutic interventions – Where it is required rapid access to psychological support should be available to victims. There is also a need for guidance around psychological input and appropriate interventions advice for professionals.

Relationship role – There could be significant value in a stable professional relationship as a part of a support offer. There is a need to replace the attention given to the victim by the perpetrator, with that of a person who the victim can learn to trust, and work with to choose a positive life course.

Other considerations for commissioners include:

  • Developing the understanding of precursors amongst professionals.
  • Disrupting the activities and networks of perpetrators.
  • Making young people aware of sexual exploitation and enabling them to recognise and escape controlling relationships [5]. Schools can play a strong role in developing these skills through Sex and Relationship Education within the PSHCE curriculum.
  • Parents/carers and voluntary and community and faith groups need to have an understanding of prevention and early intervention around CSE. In addition, the emerging Learning and Community Hubs will provide a supportive environment for the interface between schools and various children’s services (including CAMHS, school nursing, health visiting) and families and the wider community. This will be a setting where at-risk young people can be identified earlier as there will be a broad workforce including volunteers and peer supporters, with skills enhanced by specialist workforces.
  • Work with licenced premises, hotels, taxi companies and public spaces to increase awareness and confidence to report concerns.

References 

[1] Real Voices - Child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester. An independent report by Ann Coffey, MP. October 2014

[2] Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, child sexual exploitation: improving recognition and response in health settings, September 2014

[3] Lazenbatt, A. The impact of abuse and neglect on the health and mental health of children and young people NSPCC research briefing. London: NSPCC, 2010.

[4] Department for Children, Schools and Families. Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation: Supplementary Guidance to Working Together to Safeguard Children London: HMSO; 2009.  Available from: https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/standard/publicationDetail/Page1/DCSF-00689-2009

[5] Child-line. Caught in a Trap – Grooming in 2012. Available from: http://www.nspcc.org.uk/news-and-views/our-news/nspcc-news/12-11-12-grooming-report/caught-in-a-trap-pdf_wdf92793.pdf

Date this section was last reviewed 

10/05/16