High profile child sexual exploitation cases (CSE) like those in Rotherham and Rochdale have led many people to assume that all CSE victims are white British girls. But it's not the case.
Worryingly, this stereotype highlighted in our report 'It's not on the radar', means that some front-line workers may be missing children affected by CSE.
To address the issue of victims being overlooked, Barnardo's and the Home Office hosted a series of roundtables with relevant experts.
We found that a better understanding of the diversity of CSE victims in England is essential to tackling this vile form of child abuse. Professionals must cast their net wider to identify all children who have been sexually exploited, or are at risk.
Children, young people and parents also need to be more aware that not every CSE case is like the ones they see on the news, where most of the perpetrators are males and victims white girls.
Evidence in Barnardo's new report shows CSE affects children regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, faith, disability, background or upbringing.
For example, research in and outside of the UK shows children and young people with a disability are three times more likely to be abused than children without a disability, while one in five children we help in our own services are male victims of this crime. In addition young people questioning their sexuality and searching for advice may be more vulnerable to being groomed online.
Professionals need to receive training to help them identify children who have experienced, or are at risk of CSE. This should include:
- recognising learning disabilities and that a young person's real age may be different to their developmental age and therefore at odds with their experience of relationships.
- identifying boys having sex with older women or men. We need to change the prevalent attitude that boys should be grateful, rather than see it for the child abuse that it is.
- not focusing on just one ethnic community to the detriment of the others.
- realising that girls can be sexually exploited by older females under the guise of being in a friendship.
Barnardo's also wants relevant organisations to work better together and share information on the diversity of victims.
Additionally, it's critical that school lessons focus on sex and healthy relationships to help children feel more confident in being able to identify possible risky situations. This should include information on all types of relationships, not just heterosexual relationships.
It's vital that young people, families and experts understand that this horrific form of child abuse can affect any child or young person. Assumptions must not be made when trying to identify sexual exploitation as each victim has their own vulnerabilities.
Recognising the diversity of victims will help ensure CSE victims are identified and get the support they so desperately need.