Identifying and Responding to Signs of Child Sexual Exploitation: What You Need to Know

Emily Klein
May 9, 2023

In this blog, Karen Livesey National Consultant Trainer for Barnardo’s, and Director of No Whispers Community Interest Company, outlines the key things you need to know about child sexual exploitation (CSE) and the potential indicators. Karen will be sharing her expert guidance on tackling CSE at our Identifying and Responding to Warning Signs of CSE Online Training 2023.

Child sexual exploitation is an umbrella term. Offenders are prosecuted using separate sexual offences and convicted under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 for crimes such as rape and sexual assault, sexual activity with a child, distribution of indecent images of a child, meeting a child following sexual grooming, trafficking within the UK for sexual exploitation and many more.

Revisiting the definition of child sexual exploitation is valuable when considering the many forms and guises. Understanding the grooming process and how any child can be vulnerable are key factors when identifying warning signs of child sexual exploitation. Another issue of importance is the connectivity of child sexual exploitation with other forms of abuse and areas of concern, including child criminal exploitation, County lines, human trafficking and children and young people who go missing.

Attitudes and preconceived ideas of what child sexual exploitation looks like and where it may occur can sometimes be very damaging when people compartmentalise child sexual exploitation or consider child sexual exploitation only affecting certain groups of children and young people from locations and particular identities. We need to gain a comprehensive and intelligent knowledge base to wider our radar and face the truth of often disturbing and difficult issues of child sexual exploitation that exist as a labyrinth of complexities of exploitation and abuse.

Recognising potential warning signs is crucial and may prevent actual physical sexual abuse of children if intervention is timely and effective. Challenging people’s misconceptions of child sexual exploitation and often their limited understanding of warning signs is another avenue for education, prevention, and disruption. Warning signs of child sexual exploitation can be obvious, subtle, and non-existent. Not every child will display signs of child sexual exploitation and we need to acknowledge this and have a deeper awareness and sensitivity regarding the needs of children and young people and provide opportunities for the voice of the child to be heard, seen, noticed, and activated. It is vital we have an understanding related to the blocks and barriers of why children and young people do not disclose. This will give a breadth of knowledge regarding the complexities of child sexual exploitation and the compound difficulties often facing children and young people.

Our response to signs and indicators of child sexual exploitation is crucial when considering our relationship with the child and the impact of our behaviour, language, and intervention.

Knowledge of appropriate language and an understanding of victim blaming, and trauma informed approach are all important components when considering our response to warning signs of child sexual exploitation. If we can identify “reachable” or “critical” moments in early potential stages of grooming this could enable the child or young person to exit the grooming process and avoid becoming a victim of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Our responses to identifying and responding to warning signs of child sexual abuse go beyond our individual capacity. We need to radiate knowledge and facts, empower professional colleagues and educate parents and carers, community members and a wide plethora of organisations and agencies as part of a contextual safeguarding approach.

Too late and too often are the comments from young people that say, “that happened to me”. Findings from the Independent Inquiry into Child Abuse (Nov 2022) identified themes of protection for perpetrators and the lack of support for victims of child sexual abuse.

Let’s turn the tables and tackle, challenge and ultimately prevent child sexual exploitation.

If you would like to learn more from Karen, register at our interactive Identifying and Responding to Warning signs of Child Sexual Exploitation Online Training on 28th September 2023 to acquire strategies and resources for effective interventions, leaving with improved confidence in delivering an effective CSE prevention strategy.

View the agenda here