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 Examine ways in which young women may be sexual exploited via online and peer on peer exploitation

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 Examine ways in which young women may be sexual exploited via online and peer on peer exploitation


Introduction: Discussion around young people and sexual exploitation (set the scene)

This research project will focus on sexual exploitation and the experience young women have encountered from this.

definitions of CSE used are too complex and

too broad. Current government policy and guidance (e.g. Department for

Education (DfE), 2012) use the de finition developed by the National Working

Group for Sexually Exploited Children and Young People (NWG) in 2008

which is also included in the Department for Children, Schools and Families’

(DfCSF) (2009, p. 9)

definitions of CSE used are too complex and

too broad. Current government policy and guidance (e.g. Department for

Education (DfE), 2012) use the de finition developed by the National Working

Group for Sexually Exploited Children and Young People (NWG) in 2008

which is also included in the Department for Children, Schools and Families’

(DfCSF) (2009, p. 9)

definitions of CSE used are too complex and

too broad. Current government policy and guidance (e.g. Department for

Education (DfE), 2012) use the de finition developed by the National Working

Group for Sexually Exploited Children and Young People (NWG) in 2008

which is also included in the Department for Children, Schools and Families’

(DfCSF) (2009, p. 9)

definitions of CSE used are too complex and

too broad. Current government policy and guidance (e.g. Department for

Education (DfE), 2012) use the de finition developed by the National Working

Group for Sexually Exploited Children and Young People (NWG) in 2008

which is also included in the Department for Children, Schools and Families’

(DfCSF) (2009, p. 9

The aim of this dissertation project is to explore young women’s experience of child sexual exploitation. The objectives to address this will be to:

  • Examine ways in which young women may be sexual exploited via online and peer on peer exploitation
  • Explore the impact of sexual exploitation young women may have encountered.
  • Analysis what intervention and prevention methods have been put in place around young people and sexual exploitation.


Definition of Child Sexual Exploitation:

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a form a sex abuse where the child or young person is powerless in their situation and may find it difficult to escape and seek help due to fear and feeling threated by their abuser/abusers. There have been many definitions of CSE which has led to confusion by professionals and charities; the government has provided a new definition in February 2017 so there is a less confusion.  CSE is defined as a form of child abuse which occurs between children or young people under 18. This involves them being persuaded and coerced into sexual activity by their abuser/and or others in return of accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money (DFE, 2017). Child sexual exploitation does not necessarily involve physical contact as it could occur through the use of technology for example being persuaded to post sexual images on the Internet and mobile phones without immediate payment or gain (DFE, 2017).

NSPCC states that CSE involves grooming and can be described as when an abuser befriends and establishes an emotional connection with a child or young person to gain their trust. The perpetrator intentions of grooming a child or young person is focussed on sexual abusing or exploiting them. Grooming can happen face to face and also online where the perpetrator is able to hide their identity whist building a connection (NSPCC, 2017).

From this definition the scope of this project is to focus on young women under the age of 18, where they have been coerced into sexual activity in the return for material gain. It will also discuss young women who have been sexual exploited and have found no way out which have become resilient to their situation. From this definition online child sexual exploitation and online grooming will also be discussed.





Background literature on child sexual exploitation:

Charity organisations such as Barnardo’s and NSPCC has pointed out that child sexual exploitation can happen to any child or young person from any background, age, gender and race. According to Barnardo’s (2017) children and young people are most vulnerable to sexual exploitation between the ages of 13 and 15, however younger victims are also being targeted. In one month alone, Barnardo’s services worked with 126 children aged 10–13 who had been affected. In Digital Dangers (2017) Barnardo’s have pointed out that there are growing concerns of young people being a risk of harm online as it heightens vulnerability to CSE. As sexual exploitation involves children and young people being forced and coerced into sexual activity which is an ongoing relationship and process, they are protected by the law where the Government and charities are working to tackle CSE so that young people receive the best support and intervention. Although young people are seen as victims of abuse from CSE it is still a hidden and taboo subject where they may find it difficult to disclose as their abuser will have control over them.


Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a social issue that has existed for many centuries as it is a form a sexual abuse. In the Victorian era exploitative situations involving young women was classified as prostitution, although they were living in poor conditions and had limited opportunities (Itzin et al. 2000). Deborah Gorham (1978) highlighted that young women who engaged in prostitution were not passive, sexually innocent victims and were responding to the limited choices that they had (Pearce, 2008). However young women who were involved in prostitution were viewed as juvenile prostitutes and were criminalised for their behaviour, although an adult was exercising power over these young women. Between 1989 and 1993 1,758 cautions and 1,435 convictions were issued to young women under the age of 18 for prostitution related offences (Pearce, 2009). Pearce and Roach (1997) interviewed 46 prostitute women, 27% of whom said they were between 13 and 16 years of age when they started work; a total of 75% of the women said they started working before the age of 20 (Linda, 2002).

Child sexual exploitation as a cause for concern:

In the 19th century there was a cause for concern about the abuse of children and young people involved in prostitution as they are not protected (Wild,2013). This was due to public, charity and feminism campaigns by making connections about women and child abuse. Feminism succeeded in exposing the practice of sexual exploitation and coercion (Itzin, 2000).  Finally it was recognised that sexual exploitation is a form of sexual abuse and that young people’s involvement in prostitution was now classified as sexual abuse. Therefore this allowed the terminology to change from prostitution to child sexual exploitation so that children and young people could be seen as victims of abuse instead of criminals (Pearce, 2009).

Due to serious case reviews of child sexual exploitation such as Oxfordshire Rotherham which occurred between 1997-2013, this has increased awareness of CSE especially as young women slipped through the net of professionals (Gov, 2017). Professionals found it difficult to respond to CSE due to confusion around young people’s rights and their capacity to consent to sexual activity (NSPCC, 2017). However high profile cases in the UK made it evident that children were being sexual exploited. From the Independent Inquiry into CSE in Rotherham it was estimated that 1,400 children had been sexually exploited over the 16 year period (Gov, 2017). According to the Children’s Commission(2017) victims of CSE had been let down from agencies that should have been protecting them. For example the Local Safeguarding Children’s Board (LSCB) informed that Inquiry 49% was not able to tell them how many victims had been identified during 2012 in the local area.

As child sexual exploitation is now occurring online The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) have pointed out that each year they receive 1,000 reports of child online victimisation by adults (CEOP, 2013). Between 2010 to 2012 it was found from CEOP that there was a 25% increase in female victims over the age of 10 and that 80% of their reports were female victims (CEOP, 2013).

The Crime Survey for England and Wales also identified that majority of females are victims of sexual offences and from last three surveys indicates 8.2% of females aged between 16 and 19 were at the highest risk of being a victim of a sexual offence and that when their age increased the risk of victimisation reduced (nationalarchieve.gov.uk).

Subsequently Barnardo’s took the lead in developing a model of entry into prostitution and exploitation called the grooming model (Pearce, 2009). Grooming a young person mainly involves the perpetrator establishing a trusting and close relationship with the intentions of abusive sexual relations and activity (ibid). Historically the typical method of grooming involves one identifiable male targeting a female either face-to-face or now more recently online (Safeguardingchildrenea.co.uk).However grooming also occurs in groups, by peers, and/or older men/women.

In 2004 Barnardo’s published the Just one Click which was the first publication in the UK to address the growing concerns amongst professionals about the ways in which children and young people may be at risk of harm online (Palmer, 2008). This was due to the change and growth in technology in the 20th century such as the internet, smart mobile phones and social networking sites which has given perpetrators different avenues to sexually exploit young people. This also allow sexual imagery to be procured and shared via the Internet (Quayle and Ribisl, 2011). Although the internet can be used for many positive things it can also be a dangerous, as perpetrators have the opportunity to hide their true identity while grooming children and young people. For example there has been an increase in child sex offences relating to indecent images of children and young people. In 2005 there were 1,363 convictions relating to child pornography, which increased to 2,135 in 2010 (Wild, 2013). The National Working Group recognises that CSE can take place with the use of technology where the young person may not recognise that they are being groomed, this may include being persuaded to post sexual imagery of themselves (NWG,2008).  Posting sexual imagery is also a growing phenomenon and now is being normalised by young people when they may feel pressured into sending explicit sexual imagery. Barnardo’s (2017) have seen that peer to peer sexual exploitation is now occurring involving explicit material, which is taking place in schools, colleges, communities and online. Barnardo’s recognise that all young people can be at risk of sexual exploitation when going online and interacting with strangers, even if they have a supportive home environment (2016).


The rationale for this project topic is to acknowledge that child sexual exploitation experienced by young people both females and males has a huge impact on their life and is not something that they can easily escape due to the power and control abusers have over them. With professionals and parents/guardians having the right awareness and training around CSE it is vital to keep young people as safe as possible and to also support young people who are victims as well as those who are at risk.  The Department of Health guidance noted that CSE is a hidden problem and any child exposed to abuse and assault may threaten their lives, they can be robbed of their childhood, self-esteem, opportunities for good health, education and training (Pearce, 2009). The reason why this research topic is important within youth work is to ensure that every youth professional is aware of child sexual exploitation and have the competence in supporting all young people who are at risk of CSE or have experienced CSE, so that young people are aware of CSE, heard and valued. 

Literature search strategy

The literature search strategy for this project will be based upon secondary data. Secondary data can be defined as any investigation from evidence that has been previously collected primarily by the researcher and has therefore been produced by someone else for another purpose (Bradford and Cullen, 2011, p.141). Secondary data sources are based upon books, peer reviewed journal articles and government department publications that will be used within the project. The database that will be used in the project is from London Metropolitan University library catalogue that will signpost to relevant literature around child and youth sexual exploitation. Youth E-Journal database from London Metropolitan student guide will be the main literature search strategy in the project which will include journals from the British Journal of Sociology, British Journal of Social Work, and Child Abuse Review. The relevant literature that will support the project will be Young People and Sexual Exploitation Pearce (2009) and Turning it Around, Gilligan (2016). Google database search engine will also be applied in the project, by inputting children and young people sexual exploitation will signpost to charity organisation that are supporting this social issue such as Barnardos, NSPCC and The Children Society. From the literature strategy and peer reviewed journals found this has been a guidance for the objectives within the project.

Key words for the literature search strategy include: young women, sexual exploitation, grooming, online sexual exploitation.

The literature inclusion for the project will be young women and sexual exploitation, online sexual exploitation, the impact of sexual exploitation and professional intervention and prevention.  Therefore the exclusion for the project will be young men and sexual exploitation as the scope for the project is focussing on young women, child trafficking and exploitation outside the UK

Ethical and anti-oppressive practice

Being ethical can be defined as to how individuals as well as professionals demonstrate moral behaviour towards one another, especially when making decisions that may have an impact on others’ lives. According to Banks (2004) ethics refers to norms that people follow concerning what is right or wrong, good or bad. The importance for ethics to be applied in secondary is to ensure that young people were treated morally right and not used as subjects within the research. For example “Sexual exploitation, selling and swapping sex victimhood and agency” researchers have followed ethical guidelines such as consent, maintaining autonomy and confidentiality which will be discussed within chapter 2 literature review.

The 4 ethical principles that will be addressed within the project in relation to young women and sexual exploitation and the research that has been carried out. These will be avoid doing no harm, respect for autonomy, doing good and justice. The two ethical theories will also be applied from a utilitarianism perspective by looking interventions for the greater good for young people around CSE and having respect for young people, and from a deontology perspective for professionals to have a duty of care to all young people who may be at risk of CSE or experienced CSE. The importance of ethical principles being applied within the project is to point out good professional practice by supporting and empowering young people. According to Roberts (2009) ethics is about good youth work to inform youth professionals of excellent practice and appropriate behaviour. Youth work ethical principles will also be applied to explore the commitment youth workers have to young people.

Anti-oppressive practice will be discussed in the project in reference to how young women may be treated when at risk of CSE or experienced CSE. According to Sapin (2013) an anti-oppressive acknowledges and addresses young people’s exclusion from societal attitudes and those in power, such as rejection and a denial of opportunities experienced. From an anti-oppressive approach the Thompson PCS model will be discussed to explore anti-oppressive and discriminative attitudes to young women, which will from a personal, cultural and structural level (Thompson, 2012).

Which policy/legislation/strategies and agency link to your topic/:

The policies and legislations that will link to Child Sexual Exploitation will be Sexual Offences Act 2003 as this legislation covers prosecutions for child sexual exploitation which includes rap, sexual assault, grooming and other sexual offences. The Government policy tackling child sexual exploitation report (2015) outlines actions for healthcare, social care and education which will be discussed in the project. Tackling child sexual exploitation action plan (2011) also outlines actions to raise awareness and to prevent sexual exploitation in all sectors.


Chapter 2:



This literature review will focus on young women represented in child sexual exploitation, which will outline a serious case review from Rochdale Council. One of the major concept that arises within the research of young women is wanting the need to be heard and to express their experience of CSE to professionals. Another concept that will be discussed from research is the link between young women living in care under the local authority and the risk of CSE and the need for professional understanding.  Research within the literature review also points out that young women have become resilience to CSE where they feel that they are not victims.

The research within the literature review has used a qualitative method to collect data.

Theme one:

Who’s being sexually exploited and who’s doing the exploitation

Girls and young women over represented in CSE cases – serious case reviews

Turning it around: What do young women say helps them to move on? Phillip Gilligan- Peer reviewed article.

However research shows that there are vulnerabilities that may make a young women  vulnerable to sexual exploitation such as growing up in care Moved around like bags of rubbish Maddy Coy- Peer reviewed article

Being in care can make young people more vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Many have had difficult starts to their lives and experienced neglect, abuse or trauma. Perpetrators target children’s homes because of the high vulnerability of the children placed there and how easily they can make contact with the children. nspcc

  • Growing up in care



Older adult males

Peer on peer exploitation



Theme two:

Ways in which young women can be sexually exploited

Online exploitation

Data from CEOP indicates that females mainly experience online child sexual exploitation

Sexual messages online (Department of Health and NSPCC) 

Online sexual request




Theme three:


The impact of being sexual exploited

Chapter three

Application to theory to practice


Feminism theory/perspective

What intervention and prevention methods have been put in place- Government, schools, health professionals and youth workers.

Safeguarding model (Working Together to Safeguard guidance)

Case study from youth work charity Safer London Empowerment Programme


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