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Why we are campaigning on CSE

Read more about what the issue is and why Barnardo's is getting involved in tackling child sexual exploitation.

1. What is child sexual exploitation?

Child sexual exploitation is when someone under 18 is groomed, coerced or manipulated into sexual activity. A young person may have sex because they are tricked into it by someone, often older than them, who promises them love and security or who buys them lavish gifts. Often the young person trusts their exploiter because of their age, but this trust is abused and the young person left hurt and vulnerable.

2. Who are the young people that get involved and how are they exploited?

Any child or young person, from any background and any ethnicity can be exploited. Boys and young men can be at risk as well as young women and girls. A high proportion of the children we work with have been ‘groomed’ by an abusing adult – often posing as a ‘boyfriend figure’. Children are often befriended, lavished with gifts and attention and then gradually drawn into the control of the ‘boyfriend’ – essentially brainwashed so they are vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

3. How many children does it affect?

It is a hidden issue, so we can only go on estimates from national levels of service provision, including our own. Last year Barnardo's services worked with over 1,452 children and young people who are supported by our 24 services across the UK. The numbers of children and young people still experiencing this abuse unidentified and alone will be higher.

4. What is the impact of sexual exploitation?

It has damaging long term impacts on many children and young people. It can lead to difficulties in making and sustaining relationships with others, feelings of worthlessness and shame, loss of confidence and low self-esteem. Young people can be subject to physical and sexual violence, and be put at risk of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Their families can suffer threats, violence and significant psychological distress, disruption and fragmentation.

5. What should parents, professionals & young people do if they have concerns?

Everyone should be aware of the dangers of child sexual exploitation and know the signs. We provide materials which can be used to start to understand the issue. You can download advice leaflets we have produced to advise parents, young people and professionals who work with children how to spot the signs and what to do. If there are immediate concerns about a child, then our services can be contacted for specialist advice and support. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger please call 999.

6. Why is Barnardo’s speaking up for children and young people involved in such early sexual behaviour?

Barnardo’s believes that a child cannot consent to their own abuse. Many of these children are groomed by sophisticated criminals, and there needs to be earlier identification of the risks and intervention to prevent this abuse.

7. What do our services actually do?

Barnardo’s runs specialist sexual exploitation projects that offer a safe, confidential environment where young people can go for help, advice and support. Our project workers actively seek out young people, offering them the long-term support they need if they want to change their way of life. The projects also work with schools and others to educate vulnerable young people to protect themselves from exploitation, and with the police to bring about the prosecution of perpetrators of sexual exploitation.

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