How Children are Trafficked in Plain Sight Part 2
A key factor in CSE is the element of exchange. While in other forms of child sexual abuse, there may be gifts or treats involved for the purpose of bribery or keeping the victim silent, with CSE the “gain” for the victim is more tangible. They may be given money, drugs, alcohol, a place to stay, status within their peer group, or simply have their basic need for food and shelter met by a perpetrator. This exchange increases dependence, and makes it that much harder for children who are being sexually exploited to recognise that they are being abused in the first place, but also to find ways to leave their environment or escape their abuser.
Compounding this is the fact that, often, criminal and sexual exploitation will go hand in hand. Children will be forced or coerced into criminality, such as drug smuggling, petty theft or recruiting their friends into the abusive environment; all of these factors increase the perpetrator’s control over them, and make them more fearful. They are convinced that they are the criminal, and if they ask for help, they will be blamed.
Unfortunately, this is often the case. Male victims of CSE, in particular, can find themselves criminalised despite their exploitation, and are more likely than their female counterparts to be perceived as offenders, not victims. However, both male and female CSE victims are also victims of forced criminality. Sammy Woodhouse, a survivor of CSE in Rotherham, is currently campaigning to have the criminal records of children who were sexually exploited expunged.
Although Northern Ireland does not have the same issues with street gangs and group-based exploitation that have been seen in England, CSE does happen here. It may not be the same organised, larger-scale operations that were exhibited in Rochdale, Rotherham and elsewhere, but children are being trafficked and exploited, both online and offline. Trafficking of children for the purposes of sexual exploitation does not have to mean smuggling them across borders or overseas travel – any form of movement or transportation against their will is considered trafficking.
Given the hidden nature of CSE, it is incredibly difficult to gather evidence of prevalence. Sexual abuse is one of the most under-reported crimes, with the community and voluntary sector seeing many more incidences of CSE than the police. However, official statistics suggest that CSE is on the increase, and the secretive nature of the offences make it that much more important that we pay attention, speak up and act to protect children who are at risk. Check out part 3 of the blog for more information.