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Advice for parents and carers

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There is no stereotypical CSE victim and the victims we see come from every race, religion, gender and background. Sexual exploitation affects thousands of children and young people every year. 

As a parent it is difficult to face that your child may be being abused. The Hertfordshire Police CSE unit are used to hearing statements such as ‘that would never happen to my child’, ‘my child tells me everything’ or ‘my child is too sensible to be drawn into that’.

Here's why your child would be unlikely to tell you:

1. The grooming process

Perpetrators gain control over children by grooming them - it's an incredibly powerful process and many children don't stand a chance against it.

  • Perpetrators are attractive to the kids they target. Usually a bit older, they offer kids the excitement of experimentation with sex, drugs and alcohol.
  • Once a child does something - even something really small - that they know they might get 'in trouble' for, they become vulnerable to threats and coercion. So they get in deeper.
  • Perpetrators offer children attention and affection. That's hard to resist, especially if a child is feeling a bit lonely, or unpopular at school, or unsure about their appearance.
  • The child comes to believe they are in a loving relationship with their exploiter - and is convinced that they are not loved or understood at home.

2. Shame and guilt

Children often believe the abuse is their own fault (especially if it occurred when they were using drugs or alcohol) and fear they will be blamed or punished for what has happened.

  • They are frightened they could get into trouble from the police for accepting or handling drugs, or may even have  developed a dependency on them.
  • They feel ashamed of the sexual acts they have been coerced to participate in

3. Fear and blackmail

Exploited children are too frightened to tell anyone what is happening.

  • Threats of violence are made not just to themselves, but towards their family members.
  • They may be blackmailed by indecent images taken during the sexual exploitation.
  • They think they still 'owe' the perpetrators for any gifts or substances they have received. They may fear for the perpetrators and want to protect them.

Children get in over their heads and end up trapped in a nightmare of abuse and sexual exploitation. It's hard for any parent to imagine how bad CSE can be. And that is another reason your child might not tell you - they can't see how you could possibly believe them.

If you believe a child is being sexually exploited please report it online, contact the police non-emergency number 101 or in an emergency dial 999.

If a child reveals abuse:

  • listen carefully to what they're saying
  • let them know they've done the right thing by telling      you
  • tell them it's not their fault
  • say you'll take them seriously
  • don't confront the alleged abuser
  • explain what you'll do next
  • report what the child has told you as soon as possible. 

Finding out your child has been sexually exploited can be frightening and distressing. But there's help for you and your family. PACE works with parents and carers of children who are, or at risk of, being sexually exploited. You can call them for confidential help and advice on 0113 240 5226 or fill in their online form. Barnardo's can support parents through their services across the UK.

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