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Key messages from research on child sexual exploitation: Staff working in health settings

This briefing paper is for staff working in health settings. It brings together key messages from research on child sexual exploitation (CSE) with implications for practice and should be read in conjunction with guidance for staff.

Key messages

  • Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse and can happen to young people from all backgrounds. Whilst girls and young women are the majority of victims, boys and young men are also exploited.
  • There is no ’typical’ victim. That said, some young people may be more vulnerable than others, and a range of indicators have been highlighted to which staff should be alert. These include: prior abuse, homelessness, misusing alcohol and drugs, disability, being in care, being out of education, running away/ going missing from home or care, or gang-association.
  • A deep understanding of coercion and intimidation, and the abuses of power involved in exploitation and abuse, is essential for all health-care staff.
  • Sexually exploited young people may access a broad range of healthcare in different settings, so it is vital that health care staff are curious about sexual exploitation and ask questions to establish what is going on.
  • Ensuring young people are seen alone and privately and beginning sensitive and inquisitive conversations about the origin of injuries can create space for young people to talk.
  • Indicators of sexual exploitation may include sexual health issues, physical abuse, drug and alcohol use and mental health difficulties, including self-harm.
  • All health workers – irrespective of their role – should see beyond clinical needs by taking a holistic approach and considering what sits behind the presenting issue.
  • It is important to create an ‘invitation to tell’ for young people, by making them feel cared about and building trust.
  • There should be clear referral pathways in place for all health staff to know where to report any concerns they have about sexual exploitation.
  • Health care staff should engage in multi-agency work to protect young people, identify patterns in abuse and disrupt perpetrators.