Today we want to bring awareness to the issue of Child Sexual Exploitation. Shockingly, 7 in 10 young people who have been sexually exploited have also been reported missing.
Child Sexual Exploitation can take many forms and often involves a power dynamic favouring the abuser. A common example is where an older man will groom a young girl to do things they don’t want to do by physical force or emotional or financial manipulation. However, it’s important to remember a groomer can be of any gender, sexuality, profession, or relationship to their victim. The victim could also know their abuser, or it could even be someone like a teacher, parent, or family friend.
It can be literally anyone who is misusing the trust they have built with the child or young person.
Missing episodes and exploitation are heavily linked. Read Gia’s* story to find out more…
*We have changed the name to protect the young person’s identity.
Gia* had been the victim of sexual abuse at the age of 8. By the age of 14, she had run away from home several times, as home was not always a safe place. Her mother had substance abuse issues, which had led to her mother not being able to take care of her as a child. Gia’s relationship with her mother was still fraught, and she would often run away when there was conflict at home.
Gia had been contacting Missing People over a period of 8 months while regularly going missing. She would keep in touch with our Runaway Helpline by text and online chat, where she would get support and advice from our team. After 8 months of going missing regularly, Gia began to describe to our team how she had started meeting some older people, and going to their flat. The adults would give Gia a place to stay, often buying her presents. As Gia didn’t felt safe at home, she said these adults made her feel ‘cared for’.
A few months later however, the adults told Gia that because she went missing, the police had come and searched their flat. They told Gia the police had found their stash of drugs and had confiscated them. They said that Gia now ‘owed them’ and that she had to pay them back. Gia described having to go to the flat and have sex with men who were there, as payment. This exploitation led to Gia using drugs, to ‘numb herself’. She was really struggling with her mental health. Gia told us “I can’t see any way out of their control”.
When Gia revealed this exploitation to us, the Runaway Helpline team continued to support her, discussing her safety and exploring her options. She said she trusted that the team was here for her, and weren’t judging her. Eventually Gia felt able to tell us in more detail about the exploitation, and what was happening to her.
When Gia felt it was safe, we helped connect her with services who were able to take her to safety.
Victims of sexual exploitation often feel that there is no escape. That they are trapped in their cycle of fear. Some feel like running away and going missing is their only option. At the same time, some find themselves trapped in exploitation because abusers preyed on them while they were missing.
Our Runaway Helpline service is here to support young people, under the age of 18, when they are missing, are thinking about going missing, or have returned from missing.
Many of the young people we support are missing or considering going missing due to exploitation. Our expert team provides advice and connects young people to support. We can point them in the direction of help, discuss their options, or just listen without judgement.Visit Runaway Helpline’s Website