Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation in the UK

There is increasing awareness of the prevalence, nature and impact of child sexual abuse and exploitation in the UK. We’re now beginning to recognise that, in addition to inter-familial rape and child abuse by paedophiles, CSA/E has many different expressions including online grooming, the production and consumption of child abuse images, commercial sexual exploitation, sex trafficking, gang-related sexual violence and peer-on-peer sexual bullying and abuse.
Regardless of the form or context, CSA/E hides in the shadows and is often hard to identify, even by its victims. Unlike other forms of sexual exploitation such as prostitution and pornography, it is always (and rightly) condemned.

Definitions

“Child sexual abuse (CSA) is when a child is forced or persuaded to take part in sexual activities. This may involve physical contact or non-contact activities and can happen online or offline.” 1

“Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a type of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity
(a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or
(b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator.
The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact: it can also occur through the use of technology.” (Department for Education, 2017:6) 2

There is significant crossover within definitions of child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation.
This is why the National Crime Agency refers to CSE&A in its strategic reports. The 2017 guidance for England from the Department for Education argues that CSE should not be separated from other forms of CSA, nor from trafficking3, gendered violence or going missing.

The scale of CSA/E can be estimated based on:

1. Operational data (from agencies in the child protection and criminal justice system) and organisations supporting victims and survivors of abuse
2. Surveys conducted with the general public, including with adult survivors. 4

Facts and Figures

In 2016/17:

  • Police recorded 64,667 child sex offences
  • In the year ending March 2018, police flagged 55,061 crimes as involving child sexual abuse and 15,045 as involving child sexual exploitation.5
  • 29,600 children were identified as in need of support in England (6.3% of children in need nationally) and were recorded as being at risk of sexual abuse during their initial assessment following referral to a local authority6
  • 18,800 (4% of children in need nationally) were identified as at risk of sexual exploitation.7

Prevalence surveys reveal a high incidence of CSA/E in the UK
The findings of four recent major studies on prevalence data “suggest that some 15% of girls/young women and 5% of boys/young men experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 16, including abuse by adults and peers.”

Ongoing abuse that includes some form of penetration is a far lower figure. Prevalence studies reach somewhat different estimates on the scale of CSA, in large part due to different definitions and methodological approaches.

Crime Survey for England and Wales (Office of National Statistics, 2016a) 8

This involved a large random sample of 35,324 adult women and men, and a sample for the intimate violence module of 20,582 adults (excluding abuse by peers).

FINDINGS: 7% of adults aged 16–59 has experienced some form of CSA

The NSPCC Child Maltreatment Study (Radford et al. 2011) 9

This involved three sub-samples: 2,160 parents of under 11-year-olds; 2,275 11–17-year-olds with some additional input from parents; and 1,761 18–24-year olds. Included peer abuse.

FINDINGS: Including non-contact offences, incidences of sexual abuse were reported by:

  • 1.2% of under 11 year-olds,
  • 16.5% of 11–17-year-olds
  • 24.1% of 18–24-year-olds

Close to two-thirds of what was reported was perpetrated by peers.

The EU Fundamental Rights Agency Violence Against Women Survey (2014)10

This involved 42,002 women (only) from across Europe, including around 1,500 from the UK. It considered abuse before age 15 and perpetrated by an adult (someone over 18), thus excluding peer abuse.

FINDINGS:

  • For the EU as a whole, the average prevalence rate of sexual abuse was 12%.
  • The highest rates of 20% were in France and the Netherlands, with the UK following at 18%.

Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) Study (McGee et al. 2002).11

This was carried out by the Royal College of Surgeons and involved a random sample of 18–90-year olds (n=3,118, comprising 1,584 women and 1,534 men). This was as representative as possible, especially with respect to sex and age.

FINDINGS

  • For females in childhood: 20.4% contact abuse + 10% non-contact = 30.4% overall; 5.6% involved penetration.
  • For males in childhood: 16.2% contact + 7.4% non-contact = 23.6% overall; 2.7% involved penetration.

Hidden Demographic

Estimating the real number of victims of child abuse/ exploitation is extremely difficult.
Because victims are a “hidden demographic” it is often difficult to research and find out about the abuse that goes on. Since most CSA is never reported to (or uncovered by) an official agency, administrative data is generally recognised as underestimating the scale of CSA/E.

Most child sexual abuse/exploitation is neither reported nor identified during childhood

  • The 2015 Study by the Children’s Commissioner for England12 estimated that only 1 in 8 victims of CSA come to the attention of the authorities.
  • The 2016 Office for National Statistics Study found that 74% of adults reporting penetrative offences in childhood did not tell anyone about this at the time.

…. the services we provide rely on children coming forward and telling someone that they have been abused, which they rarely do. This could be for a number of reasons – they may feel intimidated, scared of causing trouble for their family, or simply not have the words to express what has happened to them.  Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England 13

Reasons for victims not coming forward include:

  • Lack of recognition that the abuse has occurred – e.g. through the belief they’re in a consensual relationship
  • Embarrassment or humiliation
  • Fear of being labelled
  • Fear of not being believed
  • Dependence on abuser
  • Notion that the perceived benefits of exploitation may outweigh the risks
  • Fear of violence within the exploitative relationship
  • Fear of retribution on self/ family, or separation from family
  • Loss of control; fear of police involvement and court proceedings

She was seven years old, she says, when a male visitor to the house first abused her there. Over the next six years, she told the Truth Project, she was assaulted by three other men, both in Britain and when visiting Pakistan. She always felt that to tell would put her mother in danger. 14

In all abuse, shame is likely to play a part; this can be particularly intense when children feel they have made a ‘choice’ to participate in sexual activity, and are less able to see the way they have been coerced, manipulated or intimidated into participating.15

Perpetrators of CSA/E are often skilled at preventing victims of recognising, resisting or telling others about the abuse.16

  • Exploiters may use threats, bullying and intimidation to instil a fear of telling others about the harm they are experiencing.17
  • They may intersperse this kind of intimidation with gifts, shows of affection or material reward. This inculcates a sense of loyalty and attachment towards the abuser, and contributes to a mistrust of family, professionals and authority figures.18
  • Some young people are groomed into seeing their abuser as a ‘boyfriend’ and to see themselves as being in a consensual relationship, regardless of how they are treated, passed around or trafficked. This eventually leads to a deep sense of betrayal when they begin to recognise the exploitation.19

… both the risk factors leading to CSE and the effects of CSE make it particularly challenging for children and young people to recognise they are being harmed, tell about their abuse and seek or accept help20

There are often difficulties with recognising CSA/E due to confusion over ‘choice’ and ‘consent’.
The shocking revelations of serious and ongoing child sexual exploitation in towns and cities across the UK revealed major shortcomings in professionals’ competence in recognising CSE: ‘[r]ather than being offered protection, teenagers groomed and coerced into having sex faced criminal charges of prostitution.”21 The proceeding media storm galvanised the British government and other charities into taking significant action on improving awareness and increasing the recognition that victims may exploited even when are old enough to consent and do not recognise what is happening to them as abuse.

The Department of Education (2017) observes:
“Child sexual exploitation is a complex form of abuse and it can be difficult for those working with children to identify and assess. The indicators for child sexual exploitation can sometimes be mistaken for ‘normal adolescent behaviours…”

“ … Even where a young person is old enough to legally consent to sexual activity, the law states that consent is only valid where they make a choice and have the freedom and capacity to make that choice. If a child feels they have no other meaningful choice, are under the influence of harmful substances or fearful of what might happen if they don’t comply (all of which are common features in cases of child sexual exploitation) consent cannot legally be given whatever the age of the child.”

Videos

Papers & Reports

 

Over the past few years, there has been a strong and continued rise in the number of CSA offences, prosecutions and convictions in the UK. 22
This is partly a reflection of more survivors disclosing abuse in the wake of high-profile cases; the reporting of non-recent child sexual offenses; and improved police recording.

However, the growth is also explained by increases in three areas in particular:

  1. Online offenses
  2. Peer-on-peer sexual abuse/ exploitation
  3. Child sex trafficking

Online Offenses

There has been a sharp rise in reported online CSA offences related to indecent child imagery. 23
It’s estimated that up to 80,000 people in the UK present some kind of sexual threat to children online, where sexually-explicit material is featuring ever-younger children. NSPCC research shows that some children are being groomed online and blackmailed to perform sexual acts in less than 45 minutes from initial contact.24

Viewing the material needs to be understood as collusion in the continued sexual abuse of children. For victim-survivors, the knowledge that images of their abuse continue to be viewed and distributed extends the trauma of the original crime. Viewing these images is not somehow a virtual or victimless crime.

“After nearly disappearing in the 90s, the spread of child sexual abuse material exploded with the rise of the internet, while child sex trafficking increased with exposure to a greater market online. Today, the problem is complex and still growing.”25

The rise of the internet over the past decade has rapidly expanded both the opportunities for and scale of certain forms of child sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking.

The internet increases the reach of child-abuse images
“It is likely that more individuals with a sexual interest in children commit at minimum image-based offences, due to low perceived risk.” The internet offers greater anonymity, and offenders are typically becoming younger26, more technologically astute and better able to hide their activity (including through use of the ‘dark web’).27

The internet increases the proliferation of child-abuse images
There’s been a 700% increase in child abuse images referred to the National Crime Agency in the 5 years up to 2018. This proliferation is partly down to self-generated indecent imagery by children and young people themselves, some of which will have been produced as a result of deception or coercion (or will go on to be used for such purposes): “It can be difficult to distinguish between self-taken indecent images resulting from grooming or facilitation by adult offenders who have a sexual interest in children, from the images that result from children and young people simply pushing boundaries and experimenting with their friends.”28

Every piece of pornography of me is a picture or film of me being raped. Raped as a child. Raped as a teen. Raped as a young adult. And it is for sale…. Pornography is rape, but it is much more than that. It is endless public rape….There is no closure, no hope of closure. Christine Stark, CSA Survivor29

The internet facilitates real-life (‘contact’) CSA/E offenses
Rather than investing time in grooming targeted children, online offenders can make initial contact with large numbers of children at once, following up with grooming, manipulation and coercion. Those who respond with intimidation, threats and coercion. Access to potential victims has become much easier, and children without any predisposing vulnerabilities or risk facts are also at risk through use of the internet, social media and gaming.30

“Technological advances, such as cloud storage, the ‘dark web’, social media sites, peer-to-peer sharing, and video blogs, have enabled greater contact between offenders and victims. Offenders are able to initiate contact easily and anonymously and use popular social media sites to access, groom, manipulate, and exert control over thousands of children and adolescents.”31

Peer-on-Peer Sexual Abuse and Exploitation

There has been a startling rise in reported cases of child-on-child sexual abuse and assault in the UK.

In the 4 years up until 2017:32

  • Allegations of children committing sexual offences against other children rose by 78% in just four years
  • The number of reported rapes among under-18s rose by 46%
  • Reports of sexual offences on school premises increased from 386 in 2013-14 to 922 in 2016-17 according to 31 police forces- including 225 rapes on school grounds over the four years.

Harmful sexual behaviour carried out by children and young people accounts for about half of all child sexual abuse.33 This involves everything from sexual harassment, assault and rape to online grooming, sexual bullying and coercion.

Since peer-on-peer sexual abuse is so varied, it falls under several different definitions:

  • Domestic Abuse34: relating to young people aged 16 and 17 who experience physical, emotional, sexual and/or financial abuse, and coercive control in their intimate relationships.
  • Child Sexual Exploitation35: relating to under-18-year-olds who are sexually abused in the context of exploitative relationships, contexts and situations by a person of any age.
  • Harmful Sexual Behaviour: under-18-year-olds demonstrating behaviour outside of their normative parameters of development.36
  • Serious Youth Violence: relating to sexual violence outside the context of a relationship37

“We are dealing unequivocally with the tip of the iceberg … we are seeing an increasing number of reports, we are seeing significant examples of harmful sexual behaviour and the lives of young people blighted and traumatically affected by sexual abuse.” – Simon Bailey, national police chief lead for child protection.

Child Sex Trafficking

The number of children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation has also risen rapidly.
Globally, in 2004, there were 450,000 files reviewed by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children pertaining to sexual abuse. In 2015, there were 25 million.38 In the UK in 2017, there was a 104.8% increase in the number of UK national children reported to have been abused in sexual exploitation on the previous year. Although partially reflect a growing awareness of the issue, the rise also shows that this problem is getting much worse.

The UK government recognises that it’s only identifying a minority of victims. The charity ECPAT observes that “there is still a disconnect between how CSE and modern slavery are viewed. This confusion manifests itself in policy and practice, with much confusion existing as to when CSE constitutes modern slavery or trafficking, hence the relatively low number of British nationals recorded as victims of sexual exploitation by the NRM as compared to the national estimates.”39

Of the children referred into the NRM in 2017, sexual exploitation was the second most common reason for trafficking, representing 26% of cases. There’s increasing awareness of the overlaps between different forms of trafficking; often victims of one form of trafficking are later found to have experienced other forms as well.

Offenders Profile

In order to tackle this issue effectively, it’s important to identify who propagates such abuse, and why. 
Of those on the violent Sexual Offenders Register, nearly 30,00040 have convictions for offenses against children.

Although there’s no set profile of a child abuser, many will share certain common characteristics.
They are:

  • Overwhelmingly male (always over 90% in prevalence studies).41
  • 90% are known to the child in some way (in the cases of contact abuse).42
  • Not always paedophiles: Paedophilia may or may not lead to child sexual abuse, whereas child sexual abuse involves sexual contact with a child that may or may not be due to paedophilia.43 Offenders of different kinds of abuse have different characteristics.
  • They are often characterised as having poor social skills, for example feelings of inadequacy or loneliness, greater sexual problems or passivity in relationships.
  • There is some evidence that that they often have mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, stress and suicidal tendencies.

Denial: Child sexual abusers often maintain “cognitive distortions” and offense-supporting beliefs that enable them to deny the impact or harm of their abuses and to justify their behaviour (e.g. imagining that abused children are somehow consenting). These can be either subconscious or explicit.44

Online offenders (compared with contact offenders):45

  • Report fewer previous convictions linked to sexual offences .
  • Are more likely to be more technologically versed, in employment, and to have higher educational attainment.
  • Are generally younger, less likely to have experienced cohabitation in an intimate relationship, and more likely to have had reported psychological difficulties and engaged with mental health services in their adult years.

Juvenile peer-on-peer offenders:

  • Often have a history of adverse experiences such as domestic violence46 and physical and sexual abuse and neglect. It’s estimated that between 7-26% of juvenile sex offenders are themselves victims of child sexual abuse.47 However, victimisation alone does not adequately predict the development of sexually abusive behaviour.48
  • Often have a lot in common with young people who engage in non-sexual criminal behaviour49 This includes a higher likelihood of anti-social behaviour, substance abuse and a history of physical abuse. They may have a relative lack of social skills leading to isolation from peers.50

The impact of Sexualised Popular Culture and Technology

Professionals recognise that CSA/E should not be seen in isolation, but within the contested socio-cultural norms in which it is embedded:

“Sexual abuse is not just a matter of pathological individuals but is a social and cultural problem of gender and power. Unfortunately, “negative and stereotypical attitudes towards women are commonplace among men [including boys and young men] and are not specific to sexual offenders”51

Researchers, experts and practitioners link the increase in peer-on-peer SA/E to exposure to sexually-explicit images (especially pornography).
Studies have shown that there is a marked increase in the volume of sexualised images prevalent in popular culture, and that they are more  explicit than ever before.52

“It is commonly accepted by academics, policy makers, media commentators, NGOs and activists in many countries that there has been a sexualisation of culture over the last decade”53

This sexualisation is characterised by increased permissiveness in sexual revelation, exhibitionism and voyeurism and with sexuality being regarded as increasingly key to many people’s sense of identity.The majority (60%) of young people were 14 years-old or younger when they first saw porn online54 – and rates of unwanted exposure to pornography are increasing.

A study involving over 4,500 young people in 5 European countries identified a link between regular viewing of online pornography, sexual coercion and abuse and the sending and receiving of sexual images and messages. It found:

  • Boys’ perpetration of sexual coercion and abuse was significantly associated with regular viewing of online pornography.
  • Viewing online pornography was associated with a significantly increased probability of having sent sexual images/messages for boys.
  • Boys who regularly watched online pornography were significantly more likely to hold negative gender attitudes.55

SLIDER QUOTES:

…it is important to consider emerging issues for this generation of children such as watching porn, being exposed to sexually aggressive media and the overall hyper-sexualisation of society which may be influencing behaviours of children.56

Pornography has been linked to sexually coercive behaviour among young people, and, for young women, viewing pornography is linked with higher rates of sexual harassment and forced sex.57 University of Middlesex

Sexualised media and ‘porn’ culture affects perceptions and expectations of gender within sexual relationships.
The NSPCC reports how ‘pornified’ culture separates sex from intimacy and portrays women as highly sexualised and sexually ‘ever ready’. This narrows girls’ ‘space for action’: “[o]ptions for establishing a sense of self [are] limited to sexualisation; there are few alternative anchors for self-identity that offer equivalent personal and social authority.”58

Research shows that there’s a link between sexualised behaviour, sexual violence and self-esteem, especially among girls. Many derive a great deal of peer status from sexualised behaviour and having a boyfriend- particularly if he is older. “Girls who have high self-esteem, or who get their status from different sources, such as education, hobbies or employment, are less likely to be victims of sexual violence.”59

Research also reveals how the prevalence of non-consensual sex amongst young people often points to the normalisation of male sexual violence through an equation of masculinity with sexual conquest.“Young men may not knowingly abuse their girlfriends, or recognise their behaviour as abusive or understand the negative consequences that it has on their partners. …[they] should not necessarily be demonised or wholeheartedly condemned as perpetrators of abuse, since their intent is largely not malicious, and they, like girls, are affected by portrayals of sex and gender in the media and the attitudes and expectations of their communities and peers.” NSPCC, 201160

SLIDER QUOTES:

It sort of makes boys fantasies become like real because it’s real people. And then they will assume what it’s what it’s always like… and it can be a bit aggressive, a bit forceful. Young woman, year 1161

Researchers …suggest that, by encouraging male viewers to internalise the notion of women as sexual objects, adverts create a hierarchy within which women are viewed as subordinate and, therefore, as appropriate targets for sexual violence. The Children’s Society62

It was clear that some boys predominantly viewed girls as primarily sexual objects, and that sexual coercion was seen as normal and acceptable. Little regard was held for the girls’ feelings. NSPCC Research

Peer, commercial and media pressure are important factors in encouraging young people to behave in sexual ways and engage in sexual acts.
To many young people, sexualised behaviour is ‘cool’. This idea is reinforced by some advertising and popular media, and is very difficult for adults to challenge.63

According to research by the Children’s Society: “Young people have told us that they feel pressured to keep up with the latest trends and cultures both online and offline, which can diminish their self-esteem and lead children to engage with adult content and websites intended for adults, such as dating sites or chat rooms.”

Data from Childline reveals that more than 15% of all calls about peer pressure are related to sex: “Some girls spoke of peer pressure, sometimes from other girls, to begin having sex as young as 12 and that they use drugs and alcohol to conquer their inhibitions.”

SLIDER QUOTES:

The sexualisation of children blurs the boundaries between childhood and adulthood and leaving children vulnerable to exploitation and can influence them to explore unhealthy relationships. The Children’s Society64

Children may often feel victimised by a culture of commercial sexualisation and can be forced to do things they do not feel comfortable with in an environment where there is pressure to conform and comply. Barnardo’s

In an era when young people’s culture is sexualised, digitised and commodified, it becomes even more difficult for vulnerable children to gain ownership of their own sexual choices and boundaries and to determine what is acceptable.65

Mainstream Pornography as a Driver for CSA/E

Paula Sellers, who has been working in the field of child sexual abuse recovery and prevention for nearly three decades, asks: “How does a person, usually a man, arrive at a place where he is willing to buy sex from a child he has never met before and who he knows full well would rather be almost anywhere else in the world, and who probably ended up there through sexual abuse, poverty, a complete absence of family and social supports, and a heavy dose of desperation?

Her conclusion: “One of the biggest factors? Pornography.”66

Pornography has grown almost exponentially over the last two decades. In 2016, 5,246 centuries worth of content was consumed on one mainstream site alone.67 This explosion has seen a whole host of new “genres”, including “teen” pornography which “merges sexual images of girls and women, thereby confounding the distinction between them”.68

A brief Google search shows the pervasiveness of this borderline-paedophilic material:

The porn industry is driven by demand; therefore, the massive amount of “teen porn” must reflect its widespread (and growing) popularity69. In representing situations that portray adult/child sexual situations (e.g. the fetishization of interfamilial rape, sex with babysitters, etc.), pornography breaks the safeguarding taboos surrounding the actual occurrence of adult/child sexual exploitation, thereby normalising it.70

Often the “moral grey areas” of pornography are dismissed as a mere fantasy, where anything can occur with impunity because “it isn’t real”. Many believe that exposure to pornography provides “a release of wishes, desires or drives such that they do not have to be acted on in reality.”71

However, research demonstrates that pornography does affect real-life attitudes towards sex, others and self.72 Mainstream pornography is part of the wider media that portrays teenagers as legitimate objects of sexual desire.

SLIDER QUOTES:

A big factor in boosting demand for child pornography is presenting to society false images of children. Specifically, the mass media, though unwittingly, promote images of children which do not correspond to their age or are sexualising their appearance in information and / or entertainment programmes to an extent appropriate for adults only. … Inevitably, the sexualisation of children leads to conscious or subconscious impression that children can be considered sexual objects.73

…child pornography works in concert with other widely accessible media and products that depict young girls as ‘sexy’ and/ or potentially interested in sex with adults.74

Girls, say between the ages of 8 and 13, are the very salable objects… young girls without overdevelopment [sic] and preferably with little or no pubic hair on their body… Pornographer75

As well as reflecting a popular interest in teen sexuality, mainstream pornography also plays a part in crystallising sexual interest in children.
Pornography consumption escalates over time, with heavy users requiring increasingly ‘hardcore’ or extreme content in order to maintain the same level of arousal over time. Sometimes, those who consume a lot of pornography stumble upon child abuse images in their search for variety: “With the emergence of the use of computers to traffic in child pornography, a new and growing segment of producers and consumers is being identified. They are individuals who may not have a sexual preference for children, but who have seen the gamut of adult pornography and who are searching for more bizarre material.”

Sexual interest in children is not confined to a tiny segment of hardcore ‘paedophiles’; men’s arousal to child pornography can develop through a gradual process of exposure to younger sexualised teenagers and then on to prepubescent girls.

Although mainstream pornography is not the same thing as filmed child sexual exploitation, it’s hard to ignore the correlation between the popularity of so-called “teen” porn, the sexualised representation of young people in the media and the massive growth of indecent online images of children. Child abuse images represent one of the largest growing markets under the “umbrella” of pornography.76 With revenue upwards of $3 billion per year, they make a considerable contribution to the market of commercial sexual exploitation.

SLIDER QUOTES:

A big factor in boosting demand for child pornography is presenting to society false images of children. Specifically, the mass media, though unwittingly, promote images of children which do not correspond to their age or are sexualising their appearance in information and / or entertainment programmes to an extent appropriate for adults only. … Inevitably, the sexualisation of children leads to conscious or subconscious impression that children can be considered sexual objects.77

The widespread availability of pornography on the internet has facilitated the development and maintenance of sexual deviance– including a sexual preference for children.78

Risk Factors Driving Vulnerability

The idea that men come along, identify vulnerable girls and exploit them has some truth in them, but it also masks a deeper reality of children whose lives are a state of such emotional confusion that affection, abandonment, violence, love and abuse become fused into a single crushing experience of life-long neglect and exploitation. The Children’s Society79

CSA can happen to any child regardless of age, ethnicity, sex, sexuality or location. However, it’s helpful to identify the risk factors that can increase vulnerability to abuse.80

These include:

  • experiences of former abuse;
  • poverty;
  • family conflict;
  • poor parental role models;
  • an unsettled care history;
  • a history of running away;
  • homelessness;
  • learning and mental health difficulties;
  • drug and alcohol misuse;
  • financial problems caused by addiction.81

Disability
Children with a physical or mental disability are over three times more likely to be abused or neglected than non-disabled children.82 Some may not understand that what’s happening to them is abuse and that it’s wrong, and even if they do, they might not be able to ask for help.

Re-victimisation and poly-victimisation
Children who have been abused or neglected in the past are more likely to experience further abuse than children who haven’t been abused or neglected (which is known as re-victimisation).83 Also, children who are being abused or neglected are also likely to be experiencing another form of abuse at the same time (which is known as poly-victimisation).84

Effects of CSA/E

CSA/E impacts every aspect of a young person’s life.85 The recent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA)86 discovered that child abuse can have deep-rooted and long lasting psychological effects that last beyond childhood, into and throughout adulthood.

“CSE is recognised as adversely affecting children’s physical, mental and sexual health, educational achievements, social and economic contributions, and later parenting capacity, and increasing their risk of self-harming, drug and alcohol problems, and anti-social and criminal behaviours.”87

CSA/E has a serious negative impact on:
– Capacity for trust, intimacy and relationships.
42% CSA survivors stated that it adversely affected their ongoing relationships with others. Around a third (28%) of victims and survivors involved in the Truth Project reported that they have had difficulties with trust and intimacy.88

SLIDER QUOTES:

Because when I talk about it I can see it, feel it, hear it and taste it … I try to say the words. I feel dirty inside, I feel more dirty telling you about it because it hurts me inside, it really hurts – Victim and survivor, the Truth Project

I’ve been embarrassed all my life over this. I’ve never, ever told any of my family. I told my wife last year, about 66, 67 ‒ 70 years later, I told my wife. To be honest with you, when I got married, for the first two years, instead of going to bed and making love to my wife, I used to go down to the hotel and get drunk and come home and go to bed, because every time I had sex with my wife, I used to think about [the woman who sexually abused me], and it’s upset me all my life. – A witness and former child migrant who was sent to Australia

– Family relationships89
This may be because the perpetrator was a family member or a close friend of the family, or because victims were not believed when they disclosed their abuse to parents and siblings. Evidence shows90 that survivors often feel personally responsible for the changes to family dynamics and the general well-being of the family unit as a whole the abuse has caused.

SLIDER QUOTES:

I came out of care … I tried to tell my mum what ­happened. She just slapped me from one end of the room to the other and said it didn’t happen. I went to bed, and I’d locked it away. I didn’t remember from that day. My mind had totally closed up … Like I said, my mum just slapped me and said it didn’t happen; so, it didn’t happen. – Victim and survivor, the Truth Project

The effects child sex abuse has had on me and my family is, me being ostracised by my family therefore it’s caused a big family argument where I am not believed. Still to this day my brother says we won’t talk about your ‘illness’ but now I know why. – Victim and Survivor, the Truth Project

– Friendships
CSA/E can lead to the disruption or break up of friendship groups. Victims will sometimes have difficulty developing and maintaining relationships and so will end up isolated; sometimes, they will be bullied and ostracised from social circles, which can lead to loneliness and feelings of low self-worth.

The effects child sex abuse has had on me and my family is, me being ostracised by my family therefore it’s caused a big family argument where I am not believed. Still to this day my brother says we won’t talk about your ‘illness’ but now I know why. – Victim and Survivor, the Truth Project

– Future Parenting
The effects of CSA don’t begin and end with childhood. Sometimes, victims may fear they their experience of CSA will somehow make them unsafe parents91, or even that external parties will consider them to be a danger to both their own children and others. Equally, survivors of CSA can lean towards being overly protective of their children: “In other ways I’m overcompensating because I’ve thought, ‘Well this is not going to stop me getting on’ … I know what it is to care for a child, I know how children should be cared for and nurtured …”

SLIDER QUOTES:

Personally, I didn’t want to report because I’d read years ago that if you’ve been abused, you will abuse, and when I actually disclosed to a counsellor, I begged and pleaded first, ’I promise you, I’ve done nothing to my children’, and I was literally ‒ oh, it was horrific, because I was panicking if I came out

I could barely touch him; I couldn’t breastfeed him because I felt that every time I did, I was abusing him. I loved him so much, there was this fear that I was going to hurt him because there was something wrong with me.92

CSA can have a lasting impact on the emotional well-being and mental health of survivors.
Often, survivors experience feelings of humiliation, self-consciousness and depression.93 Many will not want (or not feel able to) discuss what happened to them. Accounts provided to The Truth Project, part of the IICSA that offers victims and survivors the opportunity to share their experience, regularly reference a range of psychological problems that have arisen as a result of their childhood abuse experiences.

The most common issues reported were:

  • depression (33%),
  • lack of trust in authority (32%),
  • thoughts of suicide (28%),
  • anxiety (28%),
  • self-harming (22%)
  • and attempted suicide (22%).

Panic attacks, low self-confidence, obsessions, eating disorders, and alcohol and drug abuse were also reported.

I became very wary and withdrawn. I think it affected the rest of my life. I was worried and anxious all the time. I didn’t make friends or talk with anyone and I was always watchful for people who might hurt me. Lots of them did hurt me all through my childhood. – A witness and former child migrant who was sent to Australia in the 1940s at the age of ten

The psychological stress and trauma of CSA/E can also disrupt early brain development, leading to a greater risk of behavioural issues.

These include:

  • physical aggression
  • non-compliance
  • risk-taking
  • over-sexualised behaviour
  • general sexual behaviour problems and promiscuity.94

Victims of CSA/E are at greater risk of abusing drugs and alcohol and at heightened risk of becoming alcoholics from an early age.95

They are more often absent from school and often have poor academic performance and educational achievement. This in turn has a knock-on effect on future employment prospects, which can lead to poverty and further exacerbate social marginalisation.96

Risks of CSA/E

Survivors of child sexual abuse/ exploitation are more vulnerable to falling into commercial sexual exploitation (e.g. prostitution).
The consequences of CSA/E are far-reaching and long-lasting; the acute psychological stress and trauma has a knock-on effect on mental and physical health, behaviour, academic attainment, social integration, financial security and future life prospects.

For example, CSA/E increases the risk of homelessness, substance abuse, the need for money, isolation (from community/support networks), poor attachments, low self-esteem and school exclusion- all of which make young people even more vulnerable to further sexual abuse and exploitation – including commercial exploitation through prostitution.

A young person may become involved in commercial sexual exploitation because of ‘survival’ or because they are being controlled by a third party – in some cases, the third party may target the young person because they have identified that they are already being exploited and are vulnerable. In the former case, even when the young person feels they are doing it out of ‘choice’, it is only because of constrained choices and is still a form of exploitation.97

Although it is strictly illegal for under-18-year-olds to enter the commercial sex trade, it is remarkably commonplace, even in the UK where research suggests that around half of prostituted women began when they were underage98: “The inescapable message is that where there is prostitution, there is child prostitution.”

For victims of CSA/E, prostitution is not a choice, but a seamless transition99
The commercial sexual exploitation of children through prostitution often has a lot in common with the abuse they have already experienced:

…what is child prostitution anyway? Sex is a commodity that can be exchanged for a bed for the night, for a fix, for a meal for somewhere to stay or simply for cash. The definition of prostitution is not as simple as it sounds. One of the interviewees … was from a woman who had been abused by her uncle from the age of 7. He gave her sweets. By her early teens she was selling sex and had made the seamless transition from being abused at home to being abused on the streets. Yet the inescapable fact is that child prostitution is part of British life. It’s a product of deprivation, poverty, abuse and a series of hardships that break the spirit, devalue a sense of self to the degree that some young teenagers feel that the risk to their lives is inconsequential. The Children’s Society100

Once a child enters the commercial sexual exploitation, their vulnerability increases further and it is very difficult to break the downward vicious cycle: “Child victims of commercial sexual exploitation suffer severe physical and psychological harm…. Once entrapped in the sex trade, it is difficult for them to break loose. They may live in fear of retribution and have to bear the additional traumas of social stigmatization, marginalization and even rejection by their families and communities. At this point, their prospects for decent work as adults are limited.”101

This goes right to the heart of the question of consent. How is it possible, under our current law, for someone to fail to give consent the day before their 18th birthday, but then to be in a position in which consent is assumed the day after? Gavin Shuker MP102

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