There are many assumptions made about perpetrators of child sexual exploitation from things we may see or read online, but in reality, not enough information currently exists to build up a picture of ‘types’ of perpetrators and how or why they commit crimes against children and young people.
The Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse released a paper back in 2017 highlighting knowledge gaps in this area that require further research.
This includes understanding more about the different behaviours of perpetrators and their techniques for targeting and grooming of children and young people. The value of this information is that it may lead to perpetrators being able to be identified and their exploitative behaviours stopped.
Other areas were identified as requiring further research including: men who pay for sex with children, ethnicity and culture factors, different ways abuse is carried out e.g. gangs and groups or online, female perpetrators, harmful sexual behaviours, exploitation through apps, social media and mobile phones and further understanding about how those with disabilities or from vulnerable communities are targeted.
In 2018, research began into many of these areas and interim findings can be found here. The project is due to finish towards the end of this year.
Whatever our knowledge level or the evidence in the future, it is always going to be important that everyone continues to remain vigilant and we do not hold preconceived ideas about perpetrators and how they may look or act.
It’s worth highlighting some of the signs that might indicate that a child is being sexually exploited.
Be aware of:
• Differences in behaviour in your child, they may be drastic but might be subtle;
• Drastic changes in their appearance;
• Staying out later and more regularly;
• Experimenting with drugs and alcohol;
• Being online or on their phone a lot more than usual;
• Their behaviour may become more secretive – you may find they are hiding gifts, money or a new mobile phone, for example, and you don’t know where they have come from.
The tricky aspect of the above list is that some can be seen in many young people as they grow towards being an adult. Taking risks, testing boundaries, seeking independence and being more reliant on peers are seen as part of normal adolescent behaviour. However, parents and carers know their child and may sense or feel something seems unusual, in which case, it’s worth seeking further guidance and support.
At Safe and Sound, we know from experience that there isn’t a ‘typical’ perpetrator of sexual exploitation. They come from all different backgrounds and have different ways of targeting and grooming young people. It’s vital everyone is aware of this. Our pre-conceptions can mean that perpetrators can hide in plain sight and go undetected.
If you have any concerns or just would like to speak to someone for advice, call Safe and Sound on 01332 362120. If you think your child may be at risk of sexual exploitation you can discuss that with a member of our trained support team. Alternatively, you can contact your local safeguarding children board.
If you think you have information about a perpetrator you can call your local police force on 101 and share your information confidentially.
If you ever suspect a child is in immediate danger, you must call 999.