After the media caught hold of the high profile grooming cases in Rotherham, Rochdale and Oldham, etc. it has been hard to shake the narrow image of what a CSE victim looks like, or what kind of child is at risk.
It is more comfortable to believe that we are safe from CSE as long as we are not like those ‘troubled girls’. That is, as long as we’re not staying out late, drinking, flirting with older men, or putting ourselves at risk. This poses two major problems. First, it feeds in to a culture of victim blaming. The thought is that some girls will behave that way no matter what, they know what they are getting in to and they are asking for it. The major problem here is that these girls are viewed at best as ‘sluts’ and at worst, destined to be exploited, unable to be helped, or even undeserving of it. They are neglected by society and the services that should be protecting them, as if they are an unavoidable sacrifice to the beast that will always feed. The prevailing attitude is: ‘If you don’t want to be their prey, don’t act like it.’
We have fallen in to the trap of putting the responsibility on the child to not fall victim, rather than on the perpetrator to not abuse. We are failing to recognise that a child is still a child, no matter where she goes, what she wears or how she acts. All children deserve our protection and sexual exploitation is always the fault of the abuser, not the child.
The second major problem with stereotypes is that all children who do not fit in to it fly under the radar, abuse is misunderstood, intersections are ignored, and vigilance is dropped. When we think of a CSE victim it is rarely a disabled or LGBT youth that comes to mind, rarely a boy or a child from a middle class family. In this situation a child could be showing all the signs of CSE but because they don’t fit the stereotype, the idea that they could be being groomed or sexually exploited may not even enter the minds of the adults who should be looking out for them.
CSE affects children regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, faith, disability, background or upbringing. CSE affects all types of children because all children, by default, are vulnerable. Adults and abusers will always have some form of power to exploit them with, be that their age, money, intellectual ability, social status or physical strength.
We need to throw our scope of perception wide open to catch CSE early and eliminate the dangers that are leaving so many children at risk. There is no one kind of perpetrator, no one kind of victim, and no a sliding scale of acceptability when it comes to the sexual abuse of children. At REIGN, we are a diverse collective and we have all experienced different models of abuse. We illustrate the complexities of CSE situations and break down the one-dimensional image that comes to mind when people think about who may or may not be a victim of CSE.