Home Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from the NSPCC [LCG 05]

The support provided to victims and witnesses by a range of agencies such as the Crown Prosecution Service, Police and voluntary agencies

1. It is important to recognise that many victims of sexual exploitation who are in care have a history of intra-familial abuse, as highlighted in the Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s (OCC) accelerated report1. However, the report highlights that “despite research into child sexual exploitation suggesting this prior abuse is both perpetrated and known about, it has rarely been formally recognised or addressed by the statutory agencies”. Therefore, the provision of support for victims should be viewed within wider context of child sexual abuse as many sexually exploited children will have multiple needs.

2. The effects of child sexual abuse are broad and long-lasting, leading to social, emotional and psychological problems, and it may take substantial therapeutic work to enable children to recover.2 NSPCC research found that 16.5% of 11–17 year olds reported sexual abuse by an adult or a peer and 9.4% had been sexually abused.3 However, NSPCC there is an estimated shortfall in provision of between 51,000 and 88,000 places for therapeutic support4; a huge gap between need and service provision for children who have been sexually abused, including those sexually exploited. The essential therapeutic principles for working with intra-familial sexual abuse remain for sexual exploited children, for example, trauma, betrayal, and stigmatisation, however, it is also important to take into account the specifics of sexual exploitation in therapeutic work, for example, peer pressure and culture, and physical threats.

3. As part of its new strategy, the NSPCC is pioneering new services in seven priority areas in order to reach the most vulnerable children. Providing much needed therapeutic services for sexually abused children is a key area of the NSPCC’s strategy and represents our largest area of service delivery across 18 sites in the UK. Using the latest research, as well as the views of children and adults who have received therapy following sexual abuse, we have developed a guide called Letting the future in. This allows us to work with children from the age of four who have been sexually abused, helping them to understand their abuse, explore their feelings about it and express themselves. From our experience, we know the effects of sexual abuse can be managed through cognitive therapies and through Letting the future in we are testing and evaluating a range of therapeutic approaches. This will provide important information in relation to which approaches are the most effective.

4. The NSPCC also runs a specialist child sexual exploitation service—Protect and Respect -which is a newly developed programme, building on our experience of delivering a specialist sexual exploitation service in East London for over a decade. We provide a range of intensive support to young women aged 11–19 who have been sexually exploited, including those who have been trafficked, separated, who are unaccompanied asylum seekers, looked after children and those who have frequent “missing” episodes. NSPCC practitioners work with young people to provide information on the risks of sexual exploitation and undertake an assessment of risk with the young person to develop a tailored intervention plan. We would be more than willing to organise a visit to our services for members of the Home Affairs Select Committee should that be helpful.

5. In the vast majority of cases we have worked with involving sexually exploited young people, many first became involved in sexual exploitation through pimps, normally men, who use grooming techniques to entrap them. The NSPCC submitted data to CEOP’s thematic assessment on localised grooming which showed that in most cases we dealt with between 2005 and 2010, the young people were associating with older males with whom they were in an inappropriate and controlling relationship. In a significant number of cases they were given a mobile phone, drugs, alcohol or other gifts by the offender. In many cases they did not recognise that they were a victim because of the grooming methods used by their abusers—often victims believe they are in a normal relationship and that their abuser is their “boyfriend”. It is important that services and professional groups working with children are able to identify children who are being sexually exploited or who are at risk and work with those children to enable them to recognise how the relationships they are in are exploitative and help them minimise their risk-taking behaviour.

6. In relation to support for victims and witness within the criminal justice system, it is a significant ordeal for a child who has suffered abuse to stand up publicly and give intimate details in front of strangers. NSPCC research found that 35 of 50 young witnesses described themselves as very nervous or scared in the pre-trial period.5 Due to this, there is a danger that victims’ evidence will be withdrawn at short notice, particularly in light of ongoing intimidation and coercion by the perpetrator. Therefore, in all circumstances where children who have been sexually abused and are called on to be witnesses they should have comprehensive support and preparation for court made available to them. A thorough assessment of their individual needs should be taken to ensure that the special measures that are available are put in place to help them give their best evidence.

7. The University of Bedfordshire’s What’s Going On? report highlights that few cases come to court and victims’ experiences of the court processes are negative: “The most striking statistic was the low number of cases with convictions, reflecting the rarity of sexual exploitation cases reaching court. Support for the young person during the court process was also noted as lacking.”6 Further work remains to be done to achieve a comprehensive UK-wide child and young witness provision. Prevention in terms of successful prosecutions should be recognised as a critical part of any local strategy to safeguard children from sexual exploitation. With the change in responsibility for victim and witness support to Police and Crime Commissioners, it is also important that Police and Crime Commissioners in affected areas have a strategy to deal with the problem, including ensuring that support services are there to encourage reporting and to work with affected young people through the prosecution process.

8. The NSPCC’s work with child and young witnesses, a significant proportion of whom have been sexually abused, has been influential in demonstrating the value of pre-trial therapy and appropriate support in preparation for children and young people as witnesses. The NSPCC wants to see these measures uniformly available. In December 2011, the NSPCC and Victim Support embarked on a two year partnership to bring together their respective expertise in working with victims of crime and children and young people. This ground-breaking initiative will include the development of a national young witness service. In the first year, NSPCC and Victim Support staff are working together to develop a model(s) of service delivery, together with policies and procedures and practice materials, with a view to testing these in practice by the end of 2012. In the second year, there will be an extensive, recruitment, selection and training programme for volunteers and staff, so that the service can be delivered across England and Wales.

Whether front-line agencies are adequately equipped to identify victims and intervene at an early stage

9. There are many challenges in identifying children and young people who have been or are being sexually exploited. From our experience of supporting children in these circumstances, they are often fearful for their safety even after being removed from the exploitative situation. These children may find it very challenging to form trusting relationships with adults in positions of power, for example with child protection professionals. The NSPCC welcomes the commitment by Government to improve awareness among front-line practitioners and the recently published Department for Education “Step-by-step guide”. However, this must be accompanied by effective dissemination and implementation of LSCB-led training for social care and health professionals in order to recognise the signs of grooming and enable front-line agencies to identify children vulnerable to sexual exploitation and intervene effectively.

10. In light of the proposed changes to inter-agency guidance Working Together to Safeguard Children, the Government should clarify the status and availability of broader practice guidance on responding to child sexual exploitation. This should include whether this guidance will still be made available, whether it should still be used and how it will be updated. There also needs to be an acknowledgement that where Working Together lacks detail on child sexual exploitation, local areas are likely to seek to fill the gap with their own practice guidance, setting out local policies and procedures to respond to particular issues. This would be concerning if it leads to inconsistent practice across the country.

11. Although it is impossible to identify a single cause for why a young person becomes involved in sexual exploitation, certain factors appear to make children particularly vulnerable. These include experiences of childhood sexual abuse, problems related to or exacerbated by the experience of residential care, running away, homelessness, poverty, abuse of drugs and alcohol, disengagement from education and involvement in gangs. Given this, it is important that alongside primary prevention mechanisms such as awareness-raising in schools, and personal and sexual health education delivered through the curriculum, there is also targeted prevention undertaken by professionals, groups and agencies working with children who are specifically vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

The quality of data collection, data sharing and research on child victims of localised grooming

1. There needs to be better understanding about child sexual exploitation as the high profile cases of sexual exploitation highlighted by the media in recent years do not necessarily reflect the overall national picture. The experience of staff working at our child sexual exploitation project in London is that sex offenders are both male and female ranging in age, and come from all backgrounds, as do the victims. White, Asian, Black and European communities experience similar levels of cross-cultural exploitation.

2. The NSPCC welcomes the OCC’s interim report which will be published in September 2012 and the Government’s commitment to ensuring there is clearer data available. The quality of data collection needs to improve so we can understand more about the profile of adults involved, the impact of interventions, the treatment needs of victims and the extent to which these are the same or different to intra-familial child sexual abuse. The NSPCC is currently reviewing calls to ChildLine in relation to grooming for sexual abuse which will give us a clearer picture of vulnerability factors and the ways in which children are being groomed. We would welcome the opportunity to share this learning with the Home Affairs Select Committee during an oral evidence session.

3. In terms of prevention of sexual exploitation, there is also a need to better understand perpetrator behaviour—its similarities and differences with intra-familial child sexual abuse and how it is most amenable to deterrence, treatment and prevention. For instance, perpetrators of child sexual exploitation organise themselves more than those who perpetrate intra-familial sexual abuse and have some differing motivations, particularly in terms of financial gain. The NSPCC has been working with sexual abuse perpetrators over a number of years, a proportion of whom have been perpetrators of child sexual exploitation. We are currently piloting a good practice guide, based on best practice and latest knowledge in this difficult area of child protection in order to learn how to use it effectively with different types of sex offenders.

To conclude, child sexual exploitation should be seen as part of a wider child sexual abuse challenge. A cross-departmental government child sexual abuse prevention strategy would enable this to happen and would facilitate a common language in relation to all aspects of child sexual abuse. There is a need to be aware of sexual abuse and exploitation in the broadest sense in order to recognise the signs and enable victims to seek help regardless of where it may occur.


The NSPCC welcomes the opportunity to provide written evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into localised grooming. This evidence is based on our expertise in providing services for both victims and perpetrators, undertaking research and developing policy in the field of sexual abuse for over 30 years.

The NSPCC believes that the sexual exploitation of children is part of the larger problem of child sexual abuse, the vast majority of which goes unreported and untreated, takes place in the family home or the extended family, and is perpetrated by people (primarily men) related to or known to the victim.

While the NSPCC welcomes the Government’s action plan on child sexual exploitation, child sexual abuse within families remains a pressing problem. By focusing on the issue so narrowly, we believe the Government is doing a disservice to the thousands of children across the UK who need protection. The Government should develop a long-term strategy which builds on the current child sexual exploitation action plan and takes a holistic approach towards tackling child sexual abuse.

Child sexual abuse, including sexual exploitation, seriously damages young people’s lives. There is a significant shortfall in the availability of therapeutic services for victims and we believe more provision is required in order to help children and young people overcome their trauma. Furthermore, more work remains to be done to achieve a comprehensive UK-wide child and young witness provision in order to appropriately support victims through the criminal justice system, and increase prosecutions.

Given what we have learnt from our services in relation to how children are groomed for sexual exploitation, there is a need both for primary prevention mechanisms such as awareness-raising in schools, alongside targeted prevention undertaken by professionals working with children who are vulnerable to sexual exploitation.


28 August 2012

1 Accelerated report on the emerging findings of its two-year Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups, Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s, July 2012.

2 Sexual abuse: A public health challenge, NSPCC, October 2011.

3 Child abuse and neglect in the UK today, NSPCC, September 2011.

4 Sexual abuse and therapeutic services for children and young people: The gap between provision and need, NSPCC, July 2012.

5 In their own words: The experiences of 50 young witnesses in criminal proceedings, NSPCC, December 2004.

6 What’s going on to safeguard children and young people from sexual exploitation? University of Bedfordshire, October 2011.

Prepared 29th January 2014