This year marked twenty years since Loudmouth started to deliver education about Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE). Since 1998 we have worked with well over 100,000 young people and professionals using drama and interactive workshops to raise awareness of CSE, spotting signs and learning where to get help and support.
A lot has changed, and scripts and workshops are continually updated to reflect current trends, issues and practice (we had to write in something into our scripts called the ‘internet’!). Demand for CSE work has fluctuated a lot. We saw a time around 10 years ago when very few schools or organisations were interested in booking education programmes on the issue and it took the high-profile cases such as Rochdale and Rotherham to bring the importance of CSE awareness to the fore.
So, this blog looks back at some of the key changes that we have seen in CSE over the last two decades and the huge shifts in language, attitudes and legislation.
One of the things that we have seen change is the language and terminology used. Back in 1998 we were awarded funding to create a theatre in education programme about ‘young people and prostitution’. I can’t imagine a situation now where a professional would refer to the victims of CSE as prostitutes however this was common practice at the time. The funding, the research materials we used at the time all talked about ‘Child Prostitution’. In fact much of the media reporting in mainstream media at that time still referred to ‘Child Prostitutes’. Things were starting to change, Barnardo’s were talking about young people who were ‘abused through prostitution’ and highlighting that the young people involved were victims however it would be almost another decade before the term was replaced. It seems strange that only twenty years ago talking about CSE in terms of ‘prostitutes, pimps and punters’ was commonplace rather than victims, perpetrators and abusers.
The term Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) was first used in 2009 in a UK Department for Education do cument. This change was to designed to end any implied level of consent and clarify that CSE is a form of child sexual abuse in which children are ‘offered something—money, drugs, alcohol, food, a place to stay, or even just affection—in exchange for sexual activity’.
It is sad to look back at some of the original research that we did back in 1998 to see the attitudes that were held about children and young people and CSE. Many at the time saw the victims as somehow to blame something that we were driven to challenge even in our very first scripts and workshops on the issues keeping the voices of the victim central to our work. As a result, our CSE programme ‘Working for Marcus’ helped young people and professionals to clearly see the role of the perpetrator and the grooming process.
There was little awareness twenty years ago amongst many professionals or of the role that predators and sexual grooming was being used to isolate, coerce, manipulate and trap victims or the extent of the amount of physical, emotional and sexual abuse many experienced. Changes started to happen with new Home Office and Department of Health guidance in 1998 stating that ‘Child prostitutes should be treated as victims rather than criminals’ however this did not decriminalize victims and so more work was needed. A series of pilot projects by the Police (including one in Wolverhampton who we met with as part of the development of our education programme) were set up to focus on ‘not treating child prostitutes as criminals’.
Over the last twenty years there has been a lot of work to focus on the voice of the young person, to recognise and listen to those who were abused through CSE. Ann Coffee’s 2014 report ‘Real Voices’ written in the wake of the Rotherham scandal devotes over twenty pages to the voices of victims and young people.
Our work to this day continues to ensure that the voices of those victimized by CSE are heard and that victim blaming is challenged and explored with both young people and professionals.
What is perhaps the starkest change looking back is that when we first developed work on these issues in 1998 victims of CSE could be cautioned or convicted for offences related to ‘prostitution’.
The Sexual Offences Act 2003 made it an offence to ‘arrange a meeting with a child under 16, for oneself or someone else, with the intent of sexually abusing the child’.
It was only last year in 2017 that online grooming became a criminal offence for ‘anyone aged 18 or over to intentionally communicate with a child under 16, where the person acts for a sexual purpose and the communication is sexual or intended to elicit a sexual response. The offence applies to online and offline communication, including social media, e-mail, texts, letters, etc.’
Twenty years on and our programme on CSE is our most in demand theatre in education programme. We have recently made some changes to engage young people in understanding victim blaming and a forum to discuss male victims of CSE and are looking at developing work on County Lines. You can read more about these changes in our blog here.
For more information on our work on CSE or to book one of our programmes call us on 0121 446 4880.