UK children’s charity Barnardo’s has today issued a report to coincide with Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Awareness Day to highlight the diversity of the victims of abuse.
It has done this in the wake of several UK news stories that have focused on teenage girls being exploited by older gangs of men.
The charity says no-one should believe that it is only one group of young people that are the victims of abuse; children of all genders, sexualities, religions and ethnicities can be the victims of sexual exploitation.
It warns that children at risk of sexual exploitation maybe being missed as some front-line workers are stereotyping victims.
The ‘Not on the Radar’ report was created following several roundtable consultations with key authorities in the field. It looked at child sexual exploitation in England.
Key findings include:
- Children and young people with a disability are three times more likely to be abused than children without a disability.
- Young men find it particularly hard to disclose abuse – and it can sometimes by assumed that those who are engaging in sex are doing so because they are highly sexualized, gay or bisexual, and not because they are being exploited.
- LGBTQ young people may feel isolated and believe there will be a lack of acceptance by other people regarding their sexuality and gender identity. They may seek support via adult-orientated groups, online or, in the case of boys and young men, in public sex environments such as ‘cottages’ or ‘cruising grounds’.
- Possible sexual exploitation in lesbian and trans relationships should be given equal consideration as sexual exploitation within male gay relationships.
- There is little in the way of educational resources or general information that provides advice to LGBTQ young people about what a healthy relationship is.
- Societal attitudes towards sexual relationships among lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people can result in unhealthy or unsafe sexual relationships being accepted as ‘normal’.
- LGBT communities might be reluctant to talk about or acknowledge CSE for fear of exacerbating homo/bi/transphobia.
Barnardo’s chief executive, Javed Khan said in a statement: ‘This horrific form of child abuse can affect any child or young person. One in five children we help in our own services are male victims of this crime.
‘Assumptions must not be made when trying to identify sexual exploitation as each victim has their own vulnerabilities. Recognizing the diversity of victims will help ensure they are identified and get the right support.’
Barnardo’s: Schools must go beyond portraying heterosexual relationships as the only type of relationship
In its recommendations, the report says that information on relationships, including education within schools, ‘must go beyond portraying heterosexual relationships as the only type of relationship, and beyond only biological sex education.
‘There should be more focus on healthy relationships and how young people can protect themselves and identify abusive relationships, regardless of who is in the relationship.’
It also says that professionals in the field should receive more training about asking children questions about their sexuality and gender identity, and to remain open to the language and terms that they use.
The report includes case studies. One young man, Sean, describes himself as being ‘autistic, gay and from the traveller community.’ Feeling isolated from his community because of his sexuality, and because of his father was violent, Sean met a man online who promised to look after him.
Sean ran away from home to stay with the man, but he was raped and ended up being homeless.
‘If you take something like Grindr, that is about sex, it is about hooking up’
One roundtable participant noted the different way in which apps aimed at men and women work.
‘The way in which I think gay women are marketed to is incredibly different to gay men. If you take something like Grindr, that is about sex, it is about hooking up, there is a whole bunch of c**k pictures available, you know, within seconds and you know how far away they are from you.
‘On the female equivalent apps of those, there is no nudity whatsoever, it’s not allowed, it’s relationships, it’s about finding a wife, that’s the kind of way its marketed … what is attracting the men and what is attracting the women needs to be looked at.’
Gay Star News approached several of the leading gay men’s apps, including Grindr and Scruff, as well as Tinder, to comment on the report and to explain what safeguards they put in place to protect young people. The only one to respond to our request for comment was Squirt.
‘Squirt.org is a website for consenting adults only, and we believe maintaining the integrity of that to be of the utmost importance,’ said its Digital Business Director, Attila Szatmari.
‘We have two systems in place to ensure only adult men are members of our site: We set up an automated system, which looks for keywords. It flags inappropriate content, including guys who are underage.
‘We also actively promote the moderator function on each page and in email blasts to users to encourage them to report suspicious behavior.
‘In addition, we have a customer service team monitoring the site and checking profiles and images.’
A Barnardo’s spokesperson told Gay Star News that tech companies have a social responsibility, ‘to safeguard children and young people when developing dating apps and social media sites.
However, they reiterated that educating young people about healthy relationships remained paramount.
‘It’s also vital that LGBTQ young people have easy access to information such as Barnardo’s Real Love Rocks programme, a national resource which includes LGBTQ issues. This should be delivered through mandatory sex education and healthy relationship school lessons.’
‘The internet and smartphones has vastly increased our children’s vulnerability to be accessed,’ he told Gay Star News.
‘Parents need to be more aware of their child’s online whereabouts.’
However, although he welcomed the report highlighting the dangers of online grooming, he urged it not to detract from the reality of child sexual exploitation.
‘The internet has created entirely new avenues for children to be exploited which did not exist in recent decades but it has not replaced the amount of sexual abuse within families and communities, it has simply added to it.
‘As awareness of these new online dangers increase we must not turn our attention away from the immediate danger that over 90% of sexual abuse of children is perpetrated by someone the child knows and trusts and that has regular access to the child.’