Understanding Child Sexual Exploitation and Why It Is a Serious Problem

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Written By Cecilia Camille

I'm a mother of four and a writer who loves to blog, write, and be involved in online communities. I have experience with parenting as well as technology-related work. In fact, I've always been interested in how technology impacts the world around us.

For short, child sexual exploitation, or CSE, is a severe problem in Cumbria, the United States, and worldwide. Child trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crimes in America. It’s estimated that over USD 32 billion are trafficked annually to the United States alone. As of 2021, there were 1439 identified victims under 17 within this country alone!

This blog post educates readers on CSE and why it’s such an important issue to discuss. It is an issue that affects all of us. This post is for anyone curious about the topic, anyone who has been affected by it, or anyone who wants a little education on this topic!

I originally wrote this post in mid-June 2018 and have made minimal edits to it. However, I would like to remind people that CSE destroys lives. Sexual abuse breeds sexual abuse.

As many of you may already know, I work as a social worker in Cumbria. My area of expertise is child sexual exploitation. However, many of the statistics I share in this post were initially compiled by the NSPCC.

The Scope of Child Sexual Exploitation

To clarify, child sexual exploitation is any situation where a young person under 18 is exposed to or involved in sexual activities that they do not fully comprehend and cannot legally consent to. This could either be a one-off incident or a recurring issue.

Child sexual exploitation can take many forms and occurs in online and offline environments. It can happen in a variety of ways. The list is pretty long, from grooming to sexual activity to selling and using drugs.

Although most child sexual exploitation occurs online, it still involves a lot of offline action as well. Children could be groomed online and then taken offline to be exploited. Or they could just be exploited online but then groomed offline when offered drugs or other forms of ‘reward’ for taking part in certain activities (such as performing certain sexual acts).

Who is at Risk?

According to the NSPCC, children and young people who are at risk of child sexual exploitation can fall into any one of the following categories:

A family member or friend took the children. Children are placed with a host family or foster carers. Children are living in care homes. Children are attending residential care centers or other institutions. Boarding school students. Children who have been forcibly moved from their homes – such as those forced to join ISIS. Child refugees. Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Children are considered ‘vulnerable’ due to a mental or physical illness, disability, or past experiences of sexual abuse. Children who are particularly isolated or lonely. Children who have experienced a change in their family circumstances – such as those who have recently moved to a new area and are struggling to fit in. Children face difficulties at home – such as a recent divorce or relationship breakdown, parental neglect, domestic violence, problems with the law/schools, struggling with sexuality/gender identity, etc.

How Child Sexual Exploitation has Been Used for Profit by the Media for Decades

For many years the media has used CSE to raise awareness and generate highly-viewable content. The media have used terms such as ‘pedophiles,’ ‘prostitutes,’ ‘slaves,’ and ‘tourists’ to describe the people who exploit children. This is highly problematic because it makes child sexual exploitation into a ‘good guys vs. bad guys’ situation.

Recently, social media has been using children to generate content. For example, there has been an enormous increase in children being used as ‘influencers.’ This is dangerous because it gives children a false sense of ‘fame,’ possibly exposing them to sexual advances from adults. And even if such advances don’t occur, the end goal for most young people who become influencers is to be validated by adults and older teenagers – creating a problem.

How do We Prevent Child Sexual Exploitation?

I firmly believe that prevention is key to stopping the exploitation of children. The most important thing we can do is prevent the situation from happening in the first place! Here are some suggestions on how you can help:

1) Educate yourself on child sexual exploitation: This means reading up on the topic, talking to other people, and educating yourself about it. If at any time you feel uncomfortable about anything mentioned in this post or elsewhere, I encourage you to seek support from your local sexual and child abuse support organizations.

2) Pay attention to what your children are doing online: Knowing what they’re talking about on social media, who they’re talking to, and what they’re doing online. It also means that you should look at their browser history and keep track of their activity. It doesn’t matter if a child has been using the internet since they were in primary school – you should still be monitoring it if you want to know exactly what is going on. If your child has a mobile phone, learn how to monitor their messages and calls.

3) Talk to your children about CSE: This means telling them what CSE is, what it looks like, who the perpetrators are, and what they’re likely to encounter online. Your children don’t have to be high-tech experts with a comprehensive knowledge of the internet and social media – they need to know the basics. And young children need to be taught that if an adult that they have never met before asks them to do something online, it’s a red flag, and they should tell someone.

4) Teach your children how to be safe online: Teach them how to use the internet safely. It means teaching them what ‘common sense is when interacting with people online. It means reiterating that they should tell someone immediately if they ever get into a problematic situation.

5) Teach your children about consent: Although it’s a complex topic to discuss, you need to teach your children that they cannot consent to something if they do not fully understand it. This includes sex and sexuality, rape, and sexual exploitation. Children need to know that if anyone is pressuring them into doing anything sexual, they should tell someone – preferably you.

Child Pornography and the Cyber Crime of CSE – What are Authorities Doing?

The authorities are taking CSE seriously. Many police forces have specialized units that deal with CSE. These are known as ‘Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Teams. Even a new branch of the FBI in America is dedicated to combating child sexual exploitation online.

Unfortunately, many people do not know what to look for when trying to identify CSE. For this reason, there are a lot of online sales of equipment and software that claims to help identify CSE. This includes websites that claim to have the ability to identify users who are advertising sex online. There’s no such thing, however. Online abuse of children is an incredibly complex issue – and it’s completely impossible to detect from a website.

The last thing I want to do is scare or alarm you regarding the issue of child sexual exploitation. No one wants their children to be affected by such a vile crime. But the truth is, CSE is natural and happens in our world every day. If we don’t educate ourselves and our children on this issue, we will never be able to prevent it from happening in the first place.