When working with or caring for young people who have experienced Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE), it can be difficult to know what questions to ask or approaches to take to help. It can be a hard subject to talk about and understand. It’s crucial that we overcome this taboo, but also that we know how best to have that conversation.
When speaking to a young person about CSE you need to make sure the young person has control, because when a child goes through CSE their control has been taken away. Make sure you approach them in a safe environment, where they are comfortable to talk. Suggest going for a walk or playing a game the young person enjoys. This way they’re doing something they want to do and they’re in control of the environment. The language you use needs to be easily understood. There is no point using big words or phrases that a young person may be unclear in a young person’s mind.
When questioning what may have happened to the young person, remember you aren’t the one who went through the painful experiences and you shouldn’t question the validity of their story. The most important part of helping a child who has gone through CSE is believing them right from the start, because this shows them that people do listen to what they say and are there to support them. Don’t tell them you understand how they feel or what they are going through because you don’t – you weren’t the one who experienced the abuse. This choice of words can shut a young person down and stop them from talking. Try using sentences like “I can only image,” “I’m here when you’re ready,” “I believe you,” or “it’s not your fault.” This can help a young person to open up and feel supported through a hard conversation.
Once the young person has opened up to you, remember to acknowledge how hard that must have been for them and tell them how strong they were for sharing their experience. You need to show the young person that you will be there to support them and that you won’t leave their side because they need to know they have someone in their corner fighting for them.
Advise them on organisations that can help them, but never push them into making decisions about the abuse. They need to be the ones who want to report it or get help, otherwise you’re taking the control away from them just like their abuser did, making it about you and what you think is best instead of hearing what they want.Remember that the young person who confided in you needs you to be there for them and to have someone who they can turn to. They don’t need your judgement or self-serving questions. The young person is a survivor and just telling you what had happened is a powerful thing that should be recognised.
You might not be able to change what happened or take the pain away but you can be the person who supports and helps the young person get their life back on track. Trust me, if you do that they will so thankful they had you and they will never forget what you did for them.