Child sexual exploitation is prevalent within the UK. It is an issue which has seen a number of large scale investigations over the years, such as Rotherham, Oxford and Rochdale, yet still nothing definitive has been put in place to tackle the issue. The existence of poverty and poor education, despite the rise of a relatively modern state, is also linked to issues relating to the exploitation of young people in local authority care. Many of the difficulties in tackling child sexual exploitation derive from the perception of young people towards sexuality and their core identity, which is often socially determined through the language used by media, political and economic influences.
Child sexual exploitation is happening, and it’s happening closer than you realise. The way young people are perceived throughout society, particularly in lower socio-economic areas, often creates a deliberate veil of ignorance towards them. The NSPCC has attempted to address the under-reporting of child sexual exploitation and explains that the “manipulative tactics used by offenders mean many child victims are unaware they are being groomed or exploited, and often adults are unable to identify the signs.” However, in spite of a wider network of groups seeking to bring diversity to the forefront of conversation, sex and sexuality coupled with the stigma of social class and poverty prolong the taboo for many victims of exploitation merely seen as delinquents.
The demand and prevalence of child sexual exploitation is also indicative of complex structural inequalities within the UK of gender, class, race and status, with children in local authority care being more susceptible to the influences of addiction and anti-social behaviour which is characteristic of lower socio-economic areas. The stigma associated with young people residing in local authority care also affects the detection of exploitation, due to complex issues of ethnicity, masculinity and an increasingly multi-cultural society.
The general discomfort and avoidance of wider discussion prevents the identification of exploitation and the implementation of appropriate sex education, with the greatest concern of young people being a battle between power relations, rather than concentration of personal and academic development within the classroom. The current Conservative emphasis on the fundamental importance of family, also neglects the fractures within, making it increasingly difficult to address the reality of the current UK situation as the victims of sexual exploitation do not conform to the idealised image of children within our society.
Many young people entering residential care do so due to a history of other debilitating factors, such as the loss of a parent and physical or sexual abuse. These young people share the very same aspirations of those in mainstream society yet appear to be held back by the misconstruction of children within local authority care.
Although there are many figures which show juvenile crime within the UK, there is no specific crime of child sexual exploitation. According to Sue Berelowitz former deputy children’s commissioner for England; “Offenders are often convicted for associated offences such as sexual activity with a child. Therefore it’s not possible to obtain figures from police statistics of sexual exploitation offences”.
A clear link between residential care, young care leavers and child sexual exploitation is apparent, and therefore the sexual exploitation of young people within the care of the state needs to be an explicit issue of current social policy, with emphasis on the implementation of sexual education as paramount to the core of the National Curriculum. If the state places a child into care, it has a duty to provide better protection. Reform is long overdue.