Why being sexually exploited is nothing like playing on a motorway 

Why being sexually exploited is nothing like playing on a motorway 

Why being sexually exploited is not the same as playing on a motorway.
By Jessica Eaton

You know it’s bad when you have to stand up in front of 40 experienced professionals and explain why being sexually exploited is absolutely nothing like playing on a motorway. 

I have this thing where my face reveals exactly what I’m thinking, even in professional environments. Those of you who know me will know how true that is. Gets me in lots of trouble and interesting conversations. 

So imagine my face when I am away working in London, explaining to a group of experienced professionals that children are never to blame for sexual exploitation; and a woman puts her hand up and says:
“I’m sorry but I totally disagree with you and I think what you are saying is irresponsible. You’re stood there trying to tell us that children are not to blame for being sexually exploited and you are saying that their behaviours do not lead to them being raped and abused but you are wrong. You are ignoring behaviours that children show that would make them more likely to be abused.”

I asked her to clarify what she meant and reiterated my position that no child is ever to blame for being sexually abused no matter what ‘behaviours’ they showed. 

“Sexual exploitation is like kids playing on a motorway. The kids running in and out of traffic on a motorway are much more likely to be ran over by a car than kids playing at home in the garden. If the kids playing on the motorway were hit by a car, you cannot argue that they are not to blame. Loads of kids that are sexually exploited do things that mean that we cannot argue that they are not to blame. If those kids weren’t on the motorway, they would be ran over. If the kids who are being sexually exploited didn’t do the things they do, they wouldn’t be exploited. It’s wrong to say that they are never to blame. They have to take responsibility for their actions. They need to be taught about their risk taking behaviours so they are not sexually exploited.”

I am not going to lie to you, my face must have been a picture. However, I have worked in sexual violence long enough to have heard this argument many, many times. I’ve heard it tied up with ribbons in fancy language about risk taking behaviours and neuropsychological development – but I have never heard it explained with such a confident analogy. 

My responsibility at this point, as a lecturer – as an expert – is to use this challenge as an opportunity to improve the understanding of the professional who used the motorways analogy – but also the ensure her and the other 39 professionals staring at me, waiting for an answer; do not blame children for sexual abuse.

“Hmmm interesting analogy.” I started.

“Whilst I agree with you that children playing on a motorway would be likely to get ran over, and would be much more likely to be ran over than children playing at home, I don’t agree with your analogy to CSE. Actually, I don’t see any logical comparison between your analogy and CSE at all.”

‘Pick your words carefully, Jessica. Use your airtime to teach and persuade’ I think.

“I would argue that the motorway is a constant, physical but non-motivated danger to humans. When children are playing on a dangerous road, drivers are not purposely, meticulously, carefully trying to run them over from miles away. The car is not motivated to hit them to achieve some sort of pleasure or satisfaction. The child is aware of the dangers of the motorway and understands the speed and velocity of a car travelling at 70mph. The child doesn’t want to be hit by the car and the child has not been groomed and manipulated by the driver to think that they want to be ran over and should enjoy being ran over. The child has not been bribed or blackmailed to be ran over using things they need or want. Do you agree that all of this is true?”

She nodded.

“Would you also agree that no matter how much you taught your children about the dangers of roads, the green cross code and how to stay safe; you still could not blame them if a dangerous driver who wanted to harm children swerved towards them, mounted the curb and ran them over?”

She nodded.

“Child sex offenders are not the physical, constant, non-motivated dangers like the motorway that you can tell kids not to play on. They are the dangerous driver who swerves, mounts the curb and runs over the child, who cannot predict it will happen and cannot protect themselves from the impact.” 

She nodded and the other delegates all began to comment, agree and discuss.

And that’s why being sexually exploited is not the same as playing on a motorway. 

Jessica Eaton

Www.victimfocus.org.uk 

Jessica@victimfocus.org.uk

@Jessicae13Eaton 

Why ‘CSE awareness’ will never prevent CSE

Why ‘CSE awareness’ will never prevent CSE

Written by Jessica Eaton   http://www.victimfocus.org.uk   @JessicaE13Eaton

 

Today, I read this sentence:

“Education of young people is the key to prevention of child sexual exploitation.”

Last week I read this sentence:

“It is imperative that young people receive education to enable them to make informed choices about the relationships they choose to form, to help them to recognise exploitation and abuse.”

‘CSE Awareness’

‘CSE prevention sessions’

‘CSE education’

‘Healthy relationships workshops’

‘CSE information workshops’

‘CSE sessions in schools’

I cannot stand this for a moment longer. This is your official warning that this blog is mainly a huge, well informed, accurately cited, evidence-based tantrum.

So, not dissimilar to the rest of my blogs, really.

Let me tell you why CSE awareness sessions with children will never prevent CSE. Let me tell you why those sentences I had the unfortunate experience of reading; are absolute rubbish. 

  1. Educating children about CSE is important, but it is NOT a preventative strategy.

It is ridiculous to assert that teaching children about sexual exploitation prevents them from being sexually exploited. Calling CSE awareness sessions ‘the key to prevention’ is a new level of victim blaming that my brain cannot even process right now without spiralling into swear words. If we teach children about crossing the road safely, does that mean we can say that we have prevented them from ever being injured by a drunk or careless driver? If we teach children about war and violence, does that mean we have prevented them from ever being a victim of war or violence? If we sit some kids down and tell them about racism and sexism, does that mean they are now magically protected from being racially abused or oppressed because of their sex? Nah. Didn’t think so. You know why educating those children will never protect them? Because…

2. CSE doesn’t occur because a child didn’t have enough knowledge about sex  

That’s right. This is where the ‘CSE sessions prevent CSE’ logic takes us. It leads us right down a path towards arguments that once you increase the knowledge of sex, abuse and violence with children, they will therefore have enough knowledge to somehow protect themselves from a sex offender. I know exactly what the rebuttal to my argument is because I’ve heard it a thousand times “But, but, if we teach children to recognise exploitative situations, they will recognise the signs and exit abuse…’ YEAH RIGHT, OKAY THEN. Gosh, how stupid we all have been. Here we are talking about the massive power imbalance there is in all forms of abuse and the answer all along was to educate children so they just get up, ignore the power imbalance, tell their abuser to eff off and wander into a police station. Simples. I can’t even begin to imagine how insulting that assertion is for victims and survivors of child abuse. Do not be surprised when defence solicitors and well-educated sex offenders start throwing your own logic back at you in court. “Is it not true that the child attended 3 sessions of CSE awareness raising, designed to prevent them from being sexually exploited and yet never chose to report my client? Is it not true that if the child was truly educated about sexual exploitation, they would have known they were being abused and told someone?” You just wait. How are you going to get out of that one? Actually, what about other forms of abuse, does education prevent others from being abused?

   3. Education doesn’t even prevent adults from being abused so why exactly are we using this strategy with children?

For those of you who have been raped or abused as adults, how do you feel about the theory that, had you just had better education about rape or abuse; you would have just left? Yeah, thought so. Arguing that education of social issues prevents victimisation ignores the power imbalances, ignores oppression, is completely inappropriate and amounts to victim blaming. Most adults in this generation have received hundreds of messages, watched hundreds of TV shows, read or heard hundreds of stories of rape and domestic abuse in their lifetime and yet – lo and behold – 1 in 3 women will experience sexual or domestic violence in their life time and in some areas and cultures, this rises to 2 in 3 (WHO (2013) cited by UN Women, 2017). What are we saying about these women? That they all lacked education? That the ‘key’ to ‘preventing’ their abuse was some awareness sessions? Clearly, this logic is hugely flawed. So, why are we applying this faulty logic to children experiencing CSE at the hands of adults?

4. Organisations and public figures gain profit or status by asserting that educating children with their resource prevents CSE

I know right, conspiracy theory stuff!? Not really.

We have no evidence whatsoever that educating children prevents CSE – because we have never tested it. We also have no evidence that any type of sex education or relationships education has any bearing on sexual experiences or relationship outcomes (Bovarnick and Scott, 2016), despite showing some tiny effects that it may increase knowledge. So, no evidence – and yet literally hundreds of CSE resources, CSE session plans, CSE awareness raising programmes, CSE lesson plans and CSE films are being knocked out and marketed in the field as ‘prevention’ tools – some of which are sold for hundreds of pounds.

Why would organisations or individuals do this? 1. It acts as a self-generation income stream for charities and SEOs in the field of CSE at a time of unstable funding. 2. The tools tend to come with heavy, unwarranted praise for how brilliant and innovative the person or group behind the resource are (building status) – despite it never being tested or shown to be effective. I have watched police forces, local authorities, charities and companies scramble to make endless films and resources in CSE and then continually show them as ‘best practice’ with no evidence whatsoever. They then win awards or pat each other on the back for being super-brilliant-excellent-CSE-solvers.

Those same people claim to be ‘child centred’ and ‘child-focussed’. Let me be clear – there is nothing child centred or child focussed about banging out some ill-thought out, stereotypical, narrow focussed, untested resource to use with children and then market it to schools and practitioners as a ‘preventative resource’. The only person at the centre of that strategy is yourselves – for status or for money.

Want some proof? Have a look at the evidence emerging from reports such as the Women and Equalities Committee Report (2016) which found that resources around sexting, sexual exploitation and grooming were being used in the classroom to teach children to blame the child in the film for being victimised and then asking plenary questions such as ‘how could the child have avoided this happening?’ or ‘what could the child have done differently?’ or ‘what do you think led to her being sexually exploited?’ We are actively teaching children to victim blame – and who knows the damage we are doing to the children in the room who are being exploited or abused? I can’t imagine the feeling of watching a resource about a child being raped and then answering plenary questions about what the child could have done differently whilst sitting there thinking ‘but that happened to me… maybe I should do something differently… maybe I am to blame…’ That report showed the impact of using those resources and yet we are still using them across the country and we are still claiming that they amount to best practice to ‘prevent’ CSE.

You might be reading this thinking: ‘This is all a bit far-fetched – professionals and organisations benefitting from making ineffective resources and CSE ‘preventative’ tools? Why would they do this? They can’t all be doing this knowingly?’ And you would be right.

    5. Humans like to find the solution to horrible things in the world, even if they are not correct. This makes humans feel safer and in control.

I have written extensively on this topic recently and will feature in upcoming publications I am preparing in the topic of victim blaming in sexual violence. Let’s break this down for a moment.

“CSE is current. CSE is common. CSE is ‘increasing’ (it’s not, but you know). CSE needs a solution. CSE is about risk. CSE is about vulnerability. We need to reduce those risks and vulnerabilities. CSE becomes about the child. Reduce the vulnerabilities of the child. Educate the child. The child now knows all about CSE. CSE is now prevented. Woohoo!”

This is obviously oversimplified but to be honest, it reads like almost every summary of every CSE resource I have ever read. But why would professionals believe this?

They believe this because it makes them feel in control and it makes them feel like they have a solution to offer to professionals and parents – rather than admitting that the risk is coming from the offender and any child can be targeted and abused, which is likely to make them feel incompetent, helpless or not in control. CSE is a well-publicised social issue and people are frantically searching for the ‘answer’ – essentially ignoring decades of research into CSA which shows that we still haven’t found the ‘answer’ to preventing child sexual abuse as a social issue.

Potentially arising from the way CSE evolved from the terms ‘child prostitution’ and ‘commerical exploitation’ and ‘abuse through prostitution’; children being sexually exploited are still perceived as having some agency and some role in their own abuse and a role in exiting that abuse. Leading on from this, children are now being seen as the solution to child sexual exploitation – change their behaviours, increase their knowledge – prevent CSE. This has meant that organisations and practitioners have erroneously moved further and further towards an educative response to CSE until we are in the position we are right now, with statements like ‘the education of young people about CSE is the key to preventing CSE’. We are now literally sat around tables discussing a child being exploited and trafficked and prescribing them six sessions of CSE awareness and healthy relationships lessons. A huge injustice. A massive facepalm.

The field feels as though it has arrived at a solution. Educate the children and the problem will reduce. Despite this definitely not being the answer, prevention is being focussed on the child and not on the sex offender, which brings me to my final point.

6. Sex offenders are the cause of CSE. Not children. You can educate as many children as you like – there will still be child sex offenders abusing them. 

This is the most important point. Educating children about sex, relationships and abuse is important but it will NOT prevent CSE. Telling children about sexual exploitation will not stop child sex offenders from targeting and raping children. The assertion that preventing sex offending is as easy as a 40 minute powerpoint presentation to a bunch of year 9 kids is appalling. This field is so focussed on presenting the ‘risk’ as being within the child that the risk of the sex offender is essentially ignored. We have decades of research on the theories, methods, risk management and processes of child sex offenders, why does this field ignore them?

Child sexual exploitation is not new. The models and indicators are not even evidence-based and literally mean nothing. We know SO much about child sex offenders already in forensic psychology and criminology and yet I am reading report after report in CSE saying things like ‘we do not know enough about the offenders of CSE’ and ‘disruption of CSE offenders is very difficult because we don’t know enough about them’? EH? Read a book. Psychologists and Criminologists have been banging this drum for MUCH longer than the field of social work and safeguarding – learn from them. Utilise existing research findings. You can’t truly ‘tackle CSE’ if you refuse to learn about sex offenders and to learn from experts in other fields.

For those who will read this and not take it upon themselves to go and learn about child sex offenders, I can offer you a spoiler: There are no studies that tell us that sex offenders never abuse children who went to a CSE awareness session at school. There are also no studies that show that CSE awareness sessions with children ‘prevent’ sex offenders from targeting children.

For the love of humanity, will you please stop saying that educating children about CSE prevents CSE?