Preventing the sexual exploitation or abuse of children and young people can often be a daunting challenge.
It is extremely important to recognise your own feelings and reactions to the abuse when helping the young person as this will affect your responses to them and the situation.
The traumatic impact of rape, CSE, gang related sexual violence, peer abuse and online grooming can lead the young person to self harm as a way of coping with overwhelming feelings of distress. They may be suffering the short term impact of the exploitation such as flashbacks, anxiety, depression and dissociation and may be secretly self harming as a negative coping mechanism.
Many young people who have experienced sexual exploitation are fearful of the consequences of disclosure due to factors such as family pressure or shame of family finding out, or fear of gang related violence or further digital exploitation.
The longer term impact of the abuse may lead to increased suicide ideation or an entrenched sense of hopelessness and ongoing mental health issues if they do not get an effective intervention from services. They may get trapped in a spiral of disadvantage if they miss school or college due to the abuse and may be vulnerable as a result to further exploitation.
Interventions should be focused on both the current conditions that the young person is in such as any ongoing risks, together with support for the emotional impact. If the criminal justice system is involved they may be ineligible for counselling or have this stopped at the point they may need it most. So in addition to therapy please also look for opportunities that include structured help and those with positive peer groups.
With the right support at the right time, young people who have been sexually exploited can go on to build their emotional resilience, strengthen their vulnerabilities and achieve good outcomes. It is important that you, as their supporter, get the help you need in terms of talking through any secondary trauma and having good self care so that you can be patient, consistent and positive in your intervention.