It seems every day there is a new trending hashtag or campaign clamouring for awareness about one issue or another, whether it’s for a serious problem like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, or something more light-hearted like Waffle Day (which is Sunday 25 March in case you were wondering). However, this week One Stop Social has been looking into a social issue that needs much more visibility and action than it currently gets: child sexual exploitation. Sunday 18th March marks Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day, and it’s more important than ever that we make sure we are aware.
Child Sexual Exploitation (or CSE) is defined by the NSPCC as a type of sexual abuse, where children are in exploitative situations – receiving things like affection, money or gifts in exchange for performing sexual acts or having them performed on them. CSE may happen when children are manipulated into believing the relationship is consensual and loving, as a result of a degree of grooming; and can occur in person or online. A large portion of CSE happens in gangs, as a way to exert control over members and initiate new members into the gang mentality, resulting in over 2,400 children being victims of CSE in gangs and groups between August 2010 and October 2011.
Understandably, this is not an easy topic for anyone to talk about. No matter what your situation is in life, we all can have a degree of compassion towards children who have their vulnerability and innocence exploited in such a heinous way. Talking about it can sometimes be seen as acknowledging a crime we’d rather not imagine is taking place, but for that very reason we have to be aware of what is happening in the UK to our children. We can only protect young people and children if we know what the situation is and how CSE is manifesting itself in our society. We all hear about the controversies in Telford, Rochdale or Oxford on the news and extend sympathies but it takes an active effort throughout the UK to make any real change, and right now, we’re not doing enough.
Perpetrators of Child Sexual Exploitation can be male or female, of any ethnicity and from any social class. They also are not always adults, as young people are also capable and culpable of CSE across the country. The largest victim group of child sexual exploitation are children of 13 and 14 years old, with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre recognising that most offenses of CSE take place online. Technology has improved our lives in so many ways, however it has also given sexual predators the ability to abuse and exploit from behind a screen. We have to find ways to make them accountable for their actions and help prevent this exploitation from continuing.
The data on cases of CSE is frequently missing or incomplete, concealed in other categories of abuse or simply unreported; making it harder for those in power to understand just how many children are at risk of exploitation or being exploited right now. Too many children are being left defenceless against sexual predators who trick them into heart-breaking situations they cannot get out of and that will haunt them for years to come. No child should suffer from sexual exploitation; it’s up to all of us to make sure we stop it, and the first step towards that is being aware.