Posted: Friday 18th March 2016
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.
Senior Responsible Officer
West of England CSE Victim Identification and Support Service