The vast majority of children who enter sexually exploitative relationships do so as a result of coercion or desperation. In particular, they are unable to give truly informed consent to prostitution.
Coercers target vulnerability
Adults who sexually exploit children and young people, including through prostitution, should be seen as perpetrators of abuse against them.
The primary law enforcement effort should be against abusers and coercers. Only very rarely will it be appropriate for the young person to enter the criminal justice system and then only when all attempts to divert the child have failed and in the full knowledge of the child’s circumstances after inter-agency discussion.
All children and young people under the age of 16 years and who are actively being sexually exploited, including those involved in prostitution, should be regarded as children who may be at risk of significant harm and should therefore be subject to an assessment of their needs and circumstances.
A holistic, collaborative inter-agency approach is the most effective way of working.
The approach should be sensitive and aimed at empowerment and is likely to need to be sustained over a long period of time. It takes time to get alongside the young person and if intervention is too intrusive at an early stage it may alienate the young person and inhibit their chances of a successful exit. Young people will only exit when they are ready and they are often in denial about their involvement in sexually exploitative relationships.
It should be remembered during any assessment that parents, siblings, friends or ‘boyfriends’ may be involved in coercing young people into exploitation and/or prostitution.
Where a child is suspected to be involved in sexual exploitation, including prostitution, including any who have come to professional’s attention via an allegation of rape, a prompt referral should be made to either the police or the integrated children’s service locality team covering the area in which the child lives, who will immediately liaise with each other. Early intervention is important in influencing longer-term outcomes for the child.
When a young person comes to the attention of the sexual health clinic, the situation will be discussed anonymously with Police or a Child Protection and Review Unit bearing in mind the young person’s need to access medical care.
This discussion will decide:
- Whether the child is a ‘child in need’ at risk of sexual exploitation and an assessment of their needs is required.
- Whether the child is suspected to be at risk of significant harm; and
- Whether immediate protective action is necessary.
Whenever an assessment is undertaken an inter-agency planning meeting should be convened to co-ordinate the assessment and share information.
Where the child is suspected to have suffered, or to be at risk of suffering significant harm interagency referral discussions, should be held. The interagency referral discussions should consider risks to the perpetrator’s own children.
The primary objective of the interagency referral discussion will be to agree a plan to safeguard the child’s immediate welfare, health and safety and to consider the longer-term outcome for the child. The meeting should determine:
- The needs of, and risks to, the child
- Whether or not a child protection conference is required;
- The approach and strategy to co-ordinate information in order to assist with any criminal investigation, recognising risks to children involved;
- The approach and strategy with regard to formulation of an exit strategy for the young person;
- The processes and timescales for reviewing and monitoring the outcomes within the plan; and
- Issues of confidentiality, including what information is to be shared with the child’s family, given the need to work in partnership, but to protect the child and any possible evidence.
A clear outcome focused plan should be formulated and recorded, and shared with the child and, where appropriate, their family, as above.
Successful exit strategies require a careful, caring, concerted inter-agency approach and may have to be sustained for a long period of time. A successful strategy depends on constructing a plan with the young person’s involvement and agreement. Wherever
possible family members should be involved and monitoring to prevent re-entry should be considered.
Looked After Children
Looked After Children can be targeted by adults for coercion into sexually exploitative situations and prostitution. Residential staff and foster carers should always report to the child’s allocated social worker, incidents of children being picked up by unauthorised persons in cars or individuals loitering outside residential establishments. There must be close liaison with the police so that surveillance and monitoring of the adults can occur. Looked after children who run away are particularly at risk of being sexually exploited.
Care leavers will have a Pathway Plan on their 16th birthday and their Personal Advisor should be involved in planning for ongoing protection and diversion from sexual exploitation, including prostitution. The local authority has an obligation to such children up to the age of 21 and as such have a responsibility to ensure that the exit strategy is maintained.
School staff should be particularly aware of the vulnerability of children whose whereabouts during school hours are unknown and should consider the possibility of such young people being coerced into sexual exploitation, including prostitution.
Other vulnerable groups
Other vulnerable children can be targeted, for example, unaccompanied asylum seekers (male and female). Women and children have been targeted and ‘trafficked’ for sexual exploitation from China/South East Asia/Thailand and Central and Eastern Europe. Also girls and young women with learning difficulties are deliberately targeted by paedophiles due to their often increased vulnerability.