Children at risk of sexual exploitation could be slipping through the net because they are not ‘stereotypical’ victims, a report has warned.
The charity Barnardo’s warned that not all cases of CSE mirror the abuse experienced in Rotherham, where a report found 1,400 children were abused by men of largely Pakistani heritage.
Boys and girls targeted by older women are among those who experts fear may not be identified.
Children, young people and parents need to be aware that not every case is like high-profile episodes seen in Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford where most perpetrators were male and victims white girls, children’s charity Barnardo’s said.
The charity’s report - titled ‘It’s not on the radar’ - concluded there are ‘multiple models of exploitation’ and victims are ‘not solely white British’.
It said: “The risk of stereotyping people affected by child sexual exploitation (CSE) is that it can prevent the identification of victims.
“If frontline professionals focus on the CSE model prevalent in the media, such as groups of offenders, or the more ‘traditional’ boyfriend/girlfriend model, those who are being exploited using different models may not be recognised.”
Four possible scenarios in which victims may be missed were identified - boys having sex with older women or men, failure to recognize learning disabilities,
focusing on one ethnic community to the detriment of others and girls being sexually exploited by older females under the guise of being in a lesbian relationship.
Barnardo’s chief executive, Javed Khan said: “This horrific form of child abuse can affect any child or young person. Assumptions must not be made when trying to identify sexual exploitation as each victim has their own vulnerabilities.
“Recognising the diversity of victims will help ensure they are identified and get the right support.”
Minister for Preventing Abuse, Exploitation and Crime, Karen Bradley, said the Government has made child sexual abuse a ‘national threat’ for police.
She added: “We must do all we can to make sure that a child’s vulnerability is never overlooked or ignored because they don’t meet a certain stereotype.”
Boys and young men affected by sexual exploitation are often a ‘hidden group’, according to the study.
It said: “Societal attitudes linking ‘being a man’ and being masculine to having sex were thought to be widespread, meaning that boys and young men having sex with an unsuitable ‘partner’ might not be seen as potential victims.”
A fear of being labelled gay - particularly in communities where there is homophobia - can prevent disclosure while boys can be sexually exploited by peers in gang situations, the report said.
It warned that ‘societal attitudes’ towards sexual relationships among lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people can ‘result in unhealthy or unsafe sexual relationships being accepted as normal’.
Concerns were raised about an apparent lack of information about lesbian young women being targeted.
In one case a teenage girl was found at the house of an older woman who was sexually exploiting her, according to the report.
It said: “No questions were asked as to why the girl was at the house. Had this been a house belonging to an older male, it is likely that the response would have been different.”
Barnardo’s said victims come from all ethnic and faith backgrounds,
The report said: “Cultural and religious views and practices, particularly those that prize a female’s virginity or a male’s heterosexuality, may prevent victims from speaking out due to a fear of retribution or rejection from families.”
It also stressed the importance of challenging “the perception that some children are ‘safer’ than others due to their conservative or protective family environment”.