Read the blogs below to hear directly from people working on the front line to support children and young people affected by sexual exploitation. Police are working closely with both the West of England Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Victim Identification and Support Service and Barnardo's BASE projects to help identify and support children who are at risk.
Further advice and support is available via our feature page - protecting children and young people from sexual exploitation.
Becky Lewis - Children Services Manager Avon and Somerset BASE Project
I started this week doing a round of welfare calls on behalf of two of my project workers who were on annual leave – what followed was an hour spent convincing a fourteen year old to stay at his foster placement where he had just packed a bag to leave; getting another worker to drive a hour across Somerset to support a young person who had just been asked to go the police station to answer questions about an allegation of harassment made by an older male we knew had sexually exploited her; and a visit to a young girl and her mum to help them report a man who had messaged her on Facebook asking her to do ‘erotic modelling’ – while I was there she shared that her best friend had told her she had been sexually abused by her step dad.
This, sadly, is a normal day for my project workers at the Barnardo’s BASE Project but as I take time to reflect on it I cannot help to be proud of the last nine months since the West of England CSE Victim Identification and Support Project was set up with the support of PCC Sue Mountstevens. The children I spoke to lived across three local authority areas and up to seventy-five miles apart. One of them only came to the notice of professionals when her friend who was already working with us told her she needed a BASE worker. Before April two of them would have been unlikely to have had a Barnardo’s BASE service to support them as we did not have the funding to work with children in their area.
Every month we are seeing more and more young people being referred to us across the whole of Avon and Somerset. Looking at today as a snapshot we are working with over a hundred and fifty young people who have been, are or are highly likely to be being seriously sexually abused through exploitation.
With fourteen and a half months left of the West of England funding we hope to continue to reach more children and work with our equally committed partners in trying to see more prosecutions and better outcomes for young people. I am particularly excited about seeing what progress we can make in tightening our identification of children being taken across local authority boundaries, and how we can share resources and knowledge to be the best we can for the most children.
Read more about Avon and Somerset BASE project.
Dave McCallum - The West of England Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Victim Identification and Support Service
The West of England Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Victim Identification and Support Service is a two year initiative launched in May 2015 funded by the Offices of the Police and Crime Commissioners of Avon and Somerset and Wiltshire, the local authorities across those police force areas, Barnardo’s and The Home Office Policing Innovation Fund. The Service aims to develop our collective ability to recognise children at increased risk of and suffering CSE and preventing exploitation where possible. When children have been exploited, the Service aims to support and protect them and disrupt and prosecute their abusers.
As a society, we are increasingly recognising how many children are being cynically targeted by those who exploit their vulnerability to sexually abuse them. Abusers give these children something: alcohol, drugs, attention, a roof over their heads or even just attention. But they expect sex in return, sometimes not just with them but with others. Victims are treated as objects, sometimes trafficked to other places and abused by many perpetrators. Sexual demands are often reinforced with violence, humiliation and intimidation and the abuse can last for months or years.
Any child can be targeted but we know that most who are victimised were already vulnerable because of previous abuse or neglect. These are children who crave interest and affection but instead suffer further abuse and deep psychological and emotional damage.
The damage caused to those being sexually exploited can be life-long as can the costs to society, both social and economic. Adults who were sexually exploited as children are disproportionately likely to suffer drug or alcohol addiction, mental health problems, self-harm or commit suicide. They are more likely to be unemployed, homeless and claiming benefits. They are likely to require long term health and social care involvement. They are more likely to require policing and criminal justice services and less likely to be paying taxes. That’s why we need an approach that prevents CSE, stops it when it is happening, helps victims to recover and holds perpetrators to account.
Victims rarely report their abuse because of fear, dependency, misplaced loyalty or just because they feel that they have no-one who they can trust. It is easy to see CSE victims as ‘streetwise’, self-destructive and a ‘problem’. Usually, they do come to the attention of the police and other agencies in circumstances that often demand urgent, intensive, repeated and costly response. They go missing from home; they drink heavily or take drugs. They become homeless and skip school. Sometimes, they commit crime and/or anti-social behaviour.
But, with everyone working together, we can change all this. We have a training officer delivering training to professionals about CSE; how to spot the signs and what to do if they are worried. We are using what we know about local children and families to identify those who are particularly vulnerable and use existing resources to help them to avoid victimisation. Through Barnardo’s and the local authorities, specially trained workers are supporting 160 CSE victims to learn to trust again and to escape abuse. We are helping the police to develop their ability to aggressively disrupt and prosecute abusers. By doing all this, we are confident that we can tackle child sexual exploitation, safeguard our vulnerable children and allow them to live happy and productive lives.