Youth advocate Denise Lewis
Child Sexual Exploitaton (CSE) is a complex issue that doesn’t just affect the child. Parents who witness the after-effects of abuse and exploitation often report feelings of anger, guilt, shame, embarrassment, confusion and isolation.
It is especially difficult for parents to know what to do and how to cope when their child starts acting out of character. This could take the form of playing truant from school or getting into trouble with the police. Other people can often make unfair judgements, despite them not being aware of what is really happening – nor do they understand the complexities of the child’s situation.
Some families have talked negatively about the experiences that they have had with people in authority. Police, teachers and social workers can appear judgemental in their attitudes. They can come across as professionals who may believe in the stereotype that your child is making a `lifestyle choice’ or only rebelling against their upbringing because of ‘poor parenting’. Many families want professionals to stop pointing the finger and instead offer support!
Consequences for the parents
Taking large amounts of time off work adds to the strain: whether it is due to looking for a missing child, attending meetings with social care or reporting incidents to the police. The feelings of anxiousness, nervousness, stress or exhaustion may also result in time taken off work due to ill health. Relationship or marriage breakdown can also come into play as relationships can be tested and come under strain.
Families often say that the exploitation of one child in the family places other children in the family at risk of exploitation by the same people – which makes these situations all the more urgent. Support, advice and guidance from family, friends, social care, the police and charities (like Crimestoppers) becomes critical. Siblings may also feel that they are losing out emotionally as all the time and energy is focused on the child who is directly affected by CSE.
Targeting and grooming of children often brings psychological challenges for parents and other family members. It can become almost impossible for them to carry on with their own lives. They feel their lives have been turned on their head from a situation they never expected or wanted. It can weaken parents’ capacity to respond proactively to the needs of their children.
This is where empowerment comes into play. Empowerment is about gaining knowledge on the perpetrators of CSE, the patterns of grooming, and being aware of the horrendous impact of exploitation on children.
Spotting signs of CSE and coping
By Denise Lewis