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"When she shouted at me that I didn't understand, she was right. I had no clue, not a single clue about what was happening. It wasn't anything that was part of our lives." Parent of exploited child (Pace)

"It's crucial that we all share what we know about CSE with friends and family - the more parents who understand this danger, the better they are able to protect their children." Parent ( Pace)

"All I can say, both to parents and young people, is be vigilant. And if the child does start to go missing for the odd night here or there, find out what's happening - before it's too late." Barnardo's service manager

Most parents find it hard to believe this kind of thing could happen to their child. And if your child was dealing with something this awful, you'd know about it, wouldn't you?

Here's why your child would be unlikely to tell you:

1. The grooming process

Perpetrators gain control over children by grooming them - it's an incredibly powerful process and many children don't stand a chance against it.

  • Perpetrators are attractive to the kids they target. Usually a bit older, they offer kids the excitement of experimentation with sex, drugs and alcohol.
  • Once a child does something - even something really small - that they know they might get 'in trouble' for, they become vulnerable to threats and coercion. So they get in deeper.
  • Perpetrators offer children attention and affection. That's hard to resist, especially if a child is feeling a bit lonely, or unpopular at school, or unsure about their appearance.
  • The child comes to believe they are in a loving relationship with their exploiter - and is convinced that they are not loved or understood at home.

2. Shame and guilt

Children often believe the abuse is their own fault (especially if it occurred when they were using drugs or alcohol) and fear they will be blamed or punished for what has happened.

  • They are frightened they could get into trouble from the police for accepting or handling drugs, or may even have developed a dependency on them.
  • They feel ashamed of the sexual acts they have been coerced to participate in

3. Fear and blackmail

Exploited children are too frightened to tell anyone what is happening.

  • Threats of violence are made not just to themselves, but towards their family members.
  • They may be blackmailed by indecent images taken during the sexual exploitation.
  • They think they still 'owe' the perpetrators for any gifts or substances they have received. They may fear for the perpetrators and want to protect them.

Children get in over their heads and end up trapped in a nightmare of abuse and sexual exploitation. It's hard for any parent to imagine how bad CSE can be. And that is another reason your child might not tell you - they can't see how you could possibly believe them.

There are warning signs

Over time, grooming changes a child's behaviour. The problem is that these changes can look a lot like typical teenage behaviour. Pace (Parents Against Child Exploitation) suggests getting advice if your child exhibits three or more of the following warning signs:

  • Becomes especially secretive; stops seeing their usual friends; has really sharp, severe mood swings.
  • Develops relationships with older men and/or women (although not all perpetrators are older).
  • Goes missing from home and is reluctant to say where they have been or what they have been doing. Stays out all night.
  • Receives calls and messages from outside their normal circle of friends.
  • Has new, expensive items that they couldn't afford, such as mobile phones, iPods or jewellery - as well as 'invisible' or 'virtual' gifts such as phone credit and online gaming credits.
  • Suddenly changes their taste in dress or music.
  • Looks tired or unwell and sleeps at unusual hours.
  • Has marks or scars on their body, which they try to hide.
  • Starts using a different 'street language' or name.

At least half of all CSE happens online - Pace provides the following guidance on keeping children safe from online abuse:

Implement an internet curfew in your home and disconnect your router after a certain hour.

  • Insist that all mobile phones and tablets are placed in a locked safekeeping box between certain hours.
  • Make it clear that your child must not take their phone or any handheld device into the bathroom at any time.
  • Talk openly about the risks of social networking and make sure your child understands privacy settings and how virtual identities are not the same as real life. This is especially important in the context of gaming.
  • Make it clear that your child must tell you if an indecent photograph of them has been circulated on the internet. Children who are blackmailed by intimate images quickly feel backed into a corner and are prevented from seeking help through shame and embarrassment.
  • Report the image immediately to CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) or the Internet Watch Foundation.

 

If you have concerns that your child might be at risk of CSE, call Sussex Police on 101.