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Responding to child sexual abuse and exploitation in the night-time economy

This study was commissioned by the Centre of expertise on child sexual abuse and conducted by NatCen Social Research to build an understanding of what night-time economy workers know and do about child sexual exploitation (CSE), and about child sexual abuse (CSA) more broadly.

Following high-profile cases of CSE (such as in Rotherham, Oxford and Rochdale), there have been a range of campaigns aimed at increasing people’s awareness of, and capacity to act on, warning signs. Informing those who work in the night-time economy is of particular interest, as perpetrators are known to use fast-food outlets, taxi firms and hotel rooms to facilitate and conduct abuse.

For this research, the night-time economy was defined as businesses and services that have direct contact with the public after 6pm. NatCen conducted an online questionnaire with 126 self-defined night-time economy workers across a range of legitimate industries within the public, private and third sectors.

Key messages

The study found diversity in workers’ awareness of the warning signs of CSA/CSE, knowledge of how to respond, experience of and interest in training, and awareness of campaigns. Key findings were that:

  • Perceptions of risk ranged from high to none at all across the industries and roles.
  • Being aware of the risks did not mean workers were clear about the warning signs or about how to respond; this appeared more to be associated with the responsibilities of their role. Participants whose roles include responsibility for child or public protection gave details of how they would respond to warning signs. Those with other roles referred more broadly to contacting the police or social services.
  • Not all workers in the night-time economy feel equipped to recognise and respond to the warning signs. Factors that appeared to influence how participants said they would react to the warning signs were:
  1. The individual’s role/remit specifically in relation to child protection; there were workers who didnot see responding to CSA, including CSE, as part of their role
  2. The extent of their contact with young people
  3. The immediate perceived risk to the child.

• Levels of training, information and support around CSE varied across industry sectors; training is not widespread across the night-time economy. Interest in receiving training and information was mixed, with a view that the issues and responses were ‘common sense’ or not part of their role. There was positive feedback on training that had been received, and some interest in receiving more. Those who did want further training mentioned specific training relating to their area of work, or ongoing training.

• Two-fifths of participants had heard of one or more recent campaigns around CSE, even though many of those campaigns had targeted specific geographical locations.

This research was intended as a preliminary stage of exploration into what night-time economy workers know and do about CSE/CSA. Further research could focus on fully understanding workers’ knowledge of this area, evaluating the interventions aimed at night-time economy workers, and informing targeted initiatives and general messaging that the welfare of children and young people in the night-time economy is a responsibility that transcends workers’ specific roles.

Implications of the research

The project was designed to provide insights into the views and responses of workers in the night-time economy, rather than to provide a representative overview of this population. The recommendations below focus on CSE because of the role that the NTE is known to play in facilitating CSE in particular.

Key recommendations for those developing or delivering training and campaigns are:

  • providing industry-specificxeness-raising information and guidance for night-time economy workers on the warning signs of CSE, and on what to do if ‘something doesn’t look right’
  • targeting awareness-raising efforts at night-time economy workers who may have close or frequent contact with young people at risk of CSE but may not currently consider tackling this to be part of their role
  • liaising with representative bodies for key night-time industries, to catalyse internal demand for information, guidance and awareness-raising and to support the ongoing provision of training and information-sharing
  • broadcasting more generally to workers and the public that ‘keeping an eye out’ for the welfare of children and young people in the night-time economy is a general responsibility, and using campaigns to reinforce the message that anyone can raise concerns with the appropriate bodies.