Posted: 17 March 2015

Invest in tackling child sexual exploitation

The true scale of the crime of child sexual exploitation (CSE) and its impact on children is only just starting to emerge. We know that every area is affected: one police officer told the Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s inquiry into CSE that ‘there isn’t a town, village or hamlet in which children are not being sexually exploited’.

The emerging numbers are shocking. The Children’s Commissioner estimated that 16,500 children are at a high risk of sexual exploitation in England.  In Oxford, we heard that at least 373 children were sexually abused. In Rotherham, 1,400 children were victims of sexual exploitation over a 16-year period.

But we know that timely intervention from services to protect children can dramatically change the course of a child’s life (as can a lack of action). Children who have been victims of sexual exploitation are more likely to have serious long term mental health problems, alcohol or drug problems, unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases.

The NSPCC estimate that the cost of child sexual abuse is £3.2 billion a year in the UK (including a £424 million cost directly to the Exchequer and £2.7 billion in lost productivity in the labour market).

Decreasing budgets

Police forces and local councils are struggling to balance increasing demand with decreasing budgets. In a recent report on child protection, Ofsted pointed out social workers are struggling with rising caseloads, which will only increase as we become more aware of the scale and impact of child sexual exploitation. At the same time, cuts are putting huge pressure on councils’ safeguarding budgets.

And as police forces in England and Wales prepare for further reductions in their budgets next year, the chair of the College of Policing recently warned that cuts could undermine their ability to deal with child sexual exploitation.

The Chancellor should use the budget to underline the Government’s commitment to tackling CSE

With child sexual exploitation in the headlines, the government recently set out the steps it would take to tackle CSE, including making child sexual abuse a national policing priority and a law to criminalise professionals that wilfully neglect children.

We believe the Chancellor should use the budget to underline the Government’s commitment to tackling this terrible crime and providing victims with the support they need.

The budget should include a commitment to fund support services for victims of exploitation, more training for front line staff and funding for social services, the police and safeguarding boards to tackle sexual exploitation, including investment into the development of good working together practices.

The budget presents an opportunity for the government to underline their commitment to tackling CSE and provide professionals with the resources they need. Child sexual exploitation causes serious and lasting harm to children, and this alone is reason to do everything we can to tackle it. 

By Euan Holloway - Policy team
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