Sexual exploitation of children and young people under eighteen involves exploitative relationships, violence, coercion and intimidation being characterised in the main by the child or young person’s limited availability of choice resulting from their social/economic and/or emotional vulnerability. Perpetrators of child sexual exploitation are found in all parts of the country and across ethnic groups.
Reliable estimates of the prevalence of child sexual exploitation are also difficult to find. It is rarely identified and victims do not disclose for various reasons including fear of the perpetrator, shame and fear they will not be believed. Some young people are not even aware they are experiencing abuse as the perpetrator has manipulated them into believing they are in a loving relationship. The majority of child victims of sexual exploitation are girls and the average age of victims, of any gender, is 15.
The REACH team in Devon is tasked with working with children who are being sexually exploited (except those in care, who are supported by their existing social worker but the REACH team offer input). The team supported 96 young people in Devon in the first 6 months of 2014 who had been victims of child sexual exploitation.
On the 7th Jan 2014 Devon had 448 children in care aged 10 and over, 62 (13.84%) of these children were recorded by Devon and Cornwall Police as victims of child sexual exploitation. There is a strong link between young people going missing, 54 of the 62 (87%) young people in care linked to child sexual exploitation have missing episodes recorded by the police.
Sexually exploited young people have a range of vulnerabilities which may be associated with physical and mental health problems. Some vulnerabilities contribute to the exploitation, others arise from it. These include mental health problems, self-harm and suicide attempts, injuries from physical violence, sexual health problems, pregnancy, terminations and drug and alcohol misuse. In particular, children who go missing frequently are not attending school, and those who live in care are over represented among sexual exploitation victims.