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UEA calls for a renewed focus on child sexual exploitation

Young person on a phone

Saturday 18 March is National Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Raising Day and, to mark the event, the University of East Anglia (UEA) is calling for a continued focus on tackling this damaging and often hidden crime.

“Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a form of child sexual abuse which occurs when a person under the age of 18 is induced, coerced or manipulated into sexual activity,” said Dr Jane Dodsworth a lecturer in UEA’s School of Social Work. “Unfortunately young people don’t always recognise that they are being exploited, which makes them extremely vulnerable, and supporting them and targeting perpetrators all the harder for the safeguarding agencies.

“That is why continually raising awareness of the dangers amongst young people, their parents, professionals and the wider community is so important. It is crucial that professionals work together to safeguard children and young people from all forms of sexual exploitation, including the increasing risk of online exploitation.”

The number of reported crimes in Norfolk is rising year on year, with 878 referred to the police in 2015.

Detective Superintendent Julie Wvendth, of Norfolk Constabulary’s Safeguarding and Investigations Command, said: "Child sexual exploitation is child abuse and can affect any child, anytime, anywhere. CSE has no barriers, any child can be sexually exploited no matter what culture, ethnicity or religion.

"It involves offenders grooming young people and using their power to sexually abuse them. Sexual exploitation can take many forms including through a seemingly ‘consensual’ relationship, for older teens in particular. It can also include non-contact abuse such as being persuaded to send explicit images of themselves via a phone or online.

"Young people often fail to recognise that they are a victim or are in an exploitative relationship and it is therefore essential we all know how to spot the signs. Everyone has a role to play in raising awareness of CSE. The safeguarding of our children is everybody’s business.”

The Centre for Research on Children and Families at UEA was commissioned by Norfolk Constabulary and the Norfolk Safeguarding Children Board to examine the way that the key safeguarding agencies work together to tackle the issue.

“We found that all agencies involved in the Norfolk Safeguarding Children Board, which includes children’s services, family support, the police and probation services, health, education and housing professionals and the voluntary sector, are strongly committed to tackling the issue.” said Jane. “However, the complexity of detecting and dealing with CSE requires continual prioritisation, clear information sharing and the commitment of all agencies involved to playing their part in safeguarding those at risk. We are therefore recommending clearer accountabilities and stronger partnerships.

“The other crucial element is wider and increased awareness, and National CSE Awareness Days play an important part in helping members of the wider community recognise the dangers and extent of CSE,” said Jane. “But one day it is not enough. Awareness-raising and educational programmes must be ongoing, helping teachers, family, friends, even those who regularly come into contact with young people such as taxi drivers, spot the warning signs and know how to respond. And of course we must reach the children and young people themselves, so they recognise unhealthy relationships and know how to say no or get support if they need it.”

More information about the CSE Awareness Day campaign.