Child Sexual Exploitation

Spotting The Signs & More

What Is CSE?

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) is a form of Child Sexual Abuse where the victim has sex or sexual contact with one or more perpetrators and some form of exchange takes place. The exchange can be material goods for example gifts, money and drugs or what is perceived by the victim as attention, love and affection. The sexual contact almost always follows a period of grooming, where the victim is targeted, “befriended”, made to feel special or that they’re in a romantic relationship before they are finally manipulated or coerced into sexual activity. CSE is predicated on an imbalance of power between the victim and perpetrator; this could be by virtue of age, physical strength or social/economic status as well as other factors. It’s often difficult for victims who have gone through the grooming process to understand and acknowledge that they are victims of abuse, particularly if they perceive the perpetrator to be a romantic partner.

CSE was driven into the public consciousness and onto the political agenda following high-profile cases in the north of England. Perhaps the most widely reported was the Rochdale scandal, which was depicted in the BAFTA-award winning BBC mini-series Three Girls in 2017. This case, arguably more than any other, served to change the conception of CSE and its victims.

Almost as scandalous as the crimes themselves were the responses to the victims from the police and children’s services who, at the time, disregarded reports of systematic child sexual abuse made by voluntary sector agencies. This was largely due to how the victims were perceived; promiscuous girls who were making choices to sleep with men, some of whom they saw as boyfriends. On the occasions when crimes were reported, the police and Crown Prosecution Service felt the victims would be unreliable witnesses and criminal cases weren’t pursued, allowing the abuse to continue and proliferate.

What was also significant about the Rochdale case, along with similar cases in Rotherham and Newcastle, was the offender profile. The vast majority of those convicted of offences were men from South Asian British communities, while the victims were mostly – but not exclusively – white girls from working class families. The high media profile of these cases has developed a stereotype of South Asian male perpetrators that has been weaponised in the murky politics of the extreme far right, unfortunately to some effect.

Whilst a complex interplay between some cultural attitudes and close-knit familial and social networks might partially explain the phenomenon of South Asian grooming gangs, it’s a mistake to see CSE perpetration as a problem in one single community. To explore this further it’s useful to look at the different models of CSE.

Inappropriate Relationship Model

Probably one of the most common manifestations of CSE, this usually involves one perpetrator who has inappropriate power or control over a young person, such as being physically older, stronger or wealthier or in a position of power e.g. teacher or community leader. This person will be having some form of a sexual relationship with the young person. This can include familial abuse where a family member is exploiting their child, sibling for some ‘gain’, including third party gain. The abuser may also be vulnerable due to mental health issues, drug and alcohol dependency or a previous, and/or current, experience of exploitation themselves. Locally, we have had some issues with this model of CSE.

Organised/Network & Trafficking Model

This is the category that the Rotherham, Rochdale, Newcastle and Oxford cases fall under. This model includes the sex trafficking of children and young people across international borders as well as across internal borders, it can include the moving of children and young people between houses or hotels within the same town/district, for the purposes of passing children and young people to and amongst one or more sexual perpetrators. This includes larger networks of organised crime with the purposes of ‘selling’ children and young people.  Young people themselves can be exploited into ‘recruitment’ of other children and young people, including for the purposes of ‘sex parties’ arranged by the perpetrators. 

Such parties offer substances and alcohol to young people and may involve webcams to record and stream sexual acts. Young people may be manipulated and blackmailed through indecent images obtained or allegations of a drug debt following the party, this can also be found in the gangs and peer on peer models. Whilst the South Asian grooming gangs have been stereo-typically associated with the Organised Network model, there are also plenty of examples of networks comprising of men (and some women) from other ethnicities. This model hasn’t been particularly prevalent in Bracknell although some children have been linked to networks in larger nearby towns.

Gangs and Group Model

Sexual exploitation can occur through gangs and groups; this can be through gang initiation rituals, threats of violence and bullying, or as a punishment for crossing gang areas for example. Females can be found to be exploited through ‘honey trapping’, whereby a woman is tasked to infiltrate another gang through sexual advances. Young males may be forced to have sex with older women or women of similar ages in order to prove masculinity or with adult males as a form of punishment. Both genders may drug run for the gang and this can involve ‘plugging’ where by substances are transported in their anus. It has been found that the retrieval of substances can be sexually humiliating. Young people can themselves be exploited into recruiting other young people into gangs, exposing others to risks of gang violence and sexual exploitation. Bracknell isn’t what we’d call a “gang-affected area” but there have been issues around so-called “County Lines” drug gangs coming into the to and exploiting young people to run drugs.

Peer on Peer Model

Sexual exploitation can happen amongst young people of a similar age and is often referred to as ‘sexual bullying’. Some young people will befriend other young people and make them believe they are in a loving ‘relationship’ or ‘friendship’, they are then coerced into having sex with friends or associates. Peer on peer model can sometimes be related to ‘gangs and group activity’. Peer on peer sexual exploitation can include the abuse happening in public, by one or more perpetrators, and/or be filmed and distributed. In all cases of peer on peer exploitation, a power imbalance will still inform the relationship, but this might not necessarily be through an age gap between the abuser and the abused. This is probably the most common type of CSE that we come across in Bracknell.

Older Adult ‘Boyfriend/Girlfriend’ Model

Often referred to as the ‘Boyfriend’ Model, this model involves the befriending and grooming of a child or young person by an older adult. This grooming process often revolves around the child and young person’s vulnerabilities and building the child or young person to believe that they are in a loving relationship. The young person may then be passed to other known adults to the ‘boyfriend’/ ‘girlfriend’ merging into the gang or organised network models.

Online Grooming Model

Children and young people are subject to many risks when they are accessing online activities and this includes the risk of sexual exploitation. This can include adults and peers deceiving and exploiting children and young people into producing sexual images of themselves, engaging in sexual chat online or sexual activity over a webcam.  Children and young people can be groomed on-line by sexual perpetrators and manipulated and coerced to meet up secretly, or images can be screen-shot and saved to blackmail young people, which can be frightening and intimidating. This type of CSE is widespread and referrals into the Makesafe team for this are frequent.

It’s so important to remember that CSE goes much further than the big stories in the media. CSE, in all its forms, has victims and perpetrators from every walk of life regardless of race, religion, culture and socioeconomic status. This is happening now, in its various forms, across every community in the UK. Learning about the different types of CSE helps us to disregard unhelpful stereotypes about perpetrators and recognise the abuse that is happening on our doorstep – often in plain sight.

If you have any immediate concerns about a child being exploited please call the police on 101 in the first instance.

Author: Nick Young – Exploitation Prevention Manager Bracknell Forest Council