In this day and age of constant communication, 24 hour news and millions of web pages just a few taps away; what it means to be a child has changed. Films, TV shows and the media have made young people much more aware of adult themes like violence, substance misuse and especially sexual activity. These topics are infiltrating childhoods much earlier than they used to, making the idyllic ‘childhood innocence’ harder to protect. As a result, it’s our duty to embrace this new way of educating children and young people, and ensure they are aware of the dangers that come with these adult themes. Most importantly, the risk of child sexual exploitation needs to be talked about more.
As children and teenagers start to learn about sex, intimacy and relationships, it’s vital that they are taught in depth about consent and exploitation. Getting exposure to such mature subject matter while they are still developing can mean that children and young people don’t fully understand what it all means or entails. This can make it easier for predators to manipulate and lie their way into getting young people to trust them or just act in a way they shouldn’t.
Anyone under 18 is at risk of child sexual exploitation – no matter their background, race, religion, sexual orientation or financial status. Hence, it’s incredibly important that all children understand that committing sexual acts they don’t want to or they don’t think they should have to do, is wrong.
It can be tough to discuss these things with children who you may not feel are mature enough to appreciate the severity of the situation; but preventative conversations and education can make all the difference. If young people understand the dangers, then they will know to report someone who they feel is trying to exploit them, rather than letting it happen. It builds an awareness about how these situations can come about, thereby developing a strength to recognise them and step away before they are exploited.
This does not mean that the safeguarding responsibility is transferred entirely to the child or young person. By no means is that a viable solution. However, as kids are no longer really “kids”, the time has come to make the fight against child sexual exploitation a collaborative process.