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On 18 March 2021 it is the National Child Exploitation Awareness Day, a day dedicated to helping to raising awareness of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and wider exploitation. We are encouraged to think, spot and speak out against abuse, so would you give child a voice? #StopCSE. #HelpingHands
CSE is a form of sexual abuse. It involves a child being exploited when they are given things such as affection, gifts, money and/or alcohol in exchange for sexual activities. Children are often tricked into believing they are in a loving relationship and may not understand that they are being abused.
Figures obtained by the NSPCC reveal that more than 200 child sex offences were recorded on average every day between April 2019-March 2020. Further, the National Crime Agency estimates that a minimum of 300,000 people in the UK pose a risk of committing physical or online child abuse.
The true impact of how COVID-19 and the lockdown restrictions impacted upon child sexual abuse is not yet fully known.
School closures meant that children had no choice but to remain at home, which sadly is not a safe space for every child. According to the NSPCC Childline counselling sessions about child sexual abuse within the family between March and May 2020 increased to an average of 23 per week (up from an average of 8 per week) when lockdown restrictions were imposed.
In addition, more children will have spent time on the internet given that schools utilised e-learning and children could not see their friends, so would interact with them virtually. Perpetrators of abuse are exploiting this and are grooming children online, perhaps posing as a young child themselves/respected figure, gaining that trust and then requesting indecent photographs/videos, which could then be distributed online. The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which is a charity responsible for finding and removing child images/videos of child sex abuse from the internet received 44,809 reports from members of the public between 23 March 2020-9 July 2020. This was an increase of just under 50% in the number of cases from the previous year.
The above paints a very worrying picture for the children and as adults we must do what we can to protect and safeguard all children. We must educate ourselves to think about what CSE is, be able to spot to signs of child sexual exploitation and take action to speak out against CSE. Websites including NSPCC or Stop CSE are useful resources and of course if you suspect that a child is being sexually abused then the Police should be contacted.
March 18, 2020
Joanne is a Partner and Heads the Care department.