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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual exploitation by organised networks Investigation Report

Contents

B.3: The impacts on children and parents

13. Sexual exploitation often leads to children suffering one or more of the following:

  • mental health consequences, including low self-esteem, conduct disorder, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), self-harm and suicide attempts;
  • adverse effects on future behaviour and development, including age-inappropriate sexual activity, alcohol and drug misuse, a lack of ability to trust others and build relationships, and involvement in the sexual victimisation of others; and
  • physical health implications such as sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancy and possible termination, physical injury and genital injury.[1]

Some of the effects may take time to manifest themselves after exposure to the abuse has ended.[2]

14. The complainants’ accounts and the evidence relating to the case study children demonstrated harmful impacts on children:

  • CS-A12 was given cocaine and alcohol in such quantities over a short period that her “liver could not function properly and still doesn’t”.[3] She described being given so much cocaine that “I couldn’t function, I couldn’t speak”.[4]
  • CS-A317 had a breakdown and tried to take her own life following sexual exploitation;[5]
  • CS-A372 repeatedly self-harmed after being raped by a group of men and being placed back into care;[6]
  • CS-A371 was “physically assaulted by being slapped, punched and kicked by the men”.[7] For many years she suffered from nightmares, insomnia and eating problems.[8]
  • CS-A56 was recorded as “living a life of fear after being trafficked and sexually exploited;[9] and
  • CS-A114 became pregnant when aged 12 as a result of sexual exploitation by a 17-year-old male. The pregnancy was terminated, which she later disclosed was not her choice but a decision taken by her parents.[10]

15. In November 2019, Parents Against Child Exploitation (Pace), a registered charity that supports parents in relation to child exploitation and campaigns to change policy and practice to support child victims, published a study of parents’ experiences of the children’s social care system when a child is sexually exploited.[11] It found that parents’ encounters with children’s social care led them to believe that these services were “ill-equipped” to deal with child sexual exploitation. Pace identified significant delays between parents reporting concerns and services responding (in one case up to two years). It reported that professionals often lacked understanding of child sexual exploitation, often minimising or dismissing the risks and harms faced by children. Interventions also tended to focus on either the exploited child or the parents, rather than the perpetrators. Parents frequently felt alone in managing the threats to their child.[12] Pace also noted that the child protection system is “largely based on younger children rather than teenaged children” and the assumption that “the neglect and abuse is within the family and not outside”. This may lead to opportunities for support being missed.[13]

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