- Be aware of warning signs of potential sexual exploitation and grooming
Practitioners must be aware of the warning signs of potential sexual exploitation and grooming. Victims of sexual exploitation often display challenging or offending behaviour, but risk-taking behaviour is a key indicator of abuse.
Warning signs of potential exploitation include: underage sexual activity; sexual health concerns; teenage pregnancy; getting involved in crime; concerning relationships, especially with unknown adults; alcohol and drug misuse; going missing from home or placement; truancy, exclusion and disengagement from school.
The majority of victims in case reviews involving child sexual exploitation are girls. Groups particularly at risk include: children in local authority care, foster care or residential care; and young people who have had difficult early life experiences, including childhood abuse and domestic violence.
- Consider the child protection implications of underage sexual activity
Professionals providing sexual health services (including contraception) should consider the child protection implications of possible abuse or exploitation whenever they become aware of underage sexual activity.
- Carry out early and comprehensive assessments
An early and comprehensive assessment should be carried out. Without a comprehensive assessment, practice becomes task focussed so that individual incidents are addressed, for example sexual health concerns, but the bigger picture of child sexual exploitation is missed.
- Establish a complete picture through assessments from different agencies
Assessment should draw on knowledge from different agencies so that a complete picture can be established in cases where sexual exploitation is suspected.
- Assess the young person’s capacity to consent
The fact that young people are engaged in what they view as consensual sexual activity does not mean that they are not being exploited. Victims of sexual exploitation may be coerced into sexual activity with the perpetrators or they may feel unable to say no. Other young people may not recognise they are being sexually exploited, instead believing they are behaving as they wish. Sexual activity between young people of the same age is often perceived as being consensual, but exploitation may still be occurring.
Any assessment of child sexual exploitation must also include issues of ‘capacity to consent’, taking into account the grooming process and issues of coercion which may be experienced by victims of child sexual exploitation.