Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is a form of sexual abuse that involves the manipulation and/or coercion of young people under the age of 18 into sexual activity.
Warning signs of a child or young person is in an exploitative relationship can vary.
Some examples are:
- going missing from home or care
- physical injuries
- misuse of drugs or alcohol
- involvement in offending
- repeat sexually-transmitted infections, pregnancies or terminations
- absenteeism from school
- deterioration in physical appearance
- evidence of online sexual bullying
- evidence of vulnerability on social networking sites
- emotional distance from family members
- receiving gifts from unknown sources
- recruiting others into exploitative situations
- poor mental health
- thinking about or attempting suicide
Megan’s Story.. When Megan started to go Missing…
When Megan reached 13 she started to feel the pressures of being a young teenage girl and began to feel ostracised by some of her peers. Although never physically bullied or harmed by her classmates, Megan was subject to nasty catcalls and personal remarks. Megan’s parents just put this down to ‘kids being kids’.
Despite being close to her parents and in particular her Dad, Megan found it difficult to talk to him about her struggles at school. Feeling left out, Megan turned to online chat rooms for a sense of belonging and acceptance.
Soon enough Megan had found a regular contact in the chat room, Sian, a woman in her mid twenties. She was cool and understanding, not like the girls at school. She even loved Gossip Girl, her favourite TV show too!
As Sian gained Megan’s trust, Megan disclosed the troubles she faced at school and how she felt nobody understood them. Sian had experienced the same problems, and comforted Megan. ‘She shouldn’t worry about what those other jealous girls said, because there would be lots of people who would think she was beautiful’. Megan craved acceptance and these words made her feel truly special. But little did she know she was nothing but a cold-blooded business acquisition.
Eventually, Sian asked Megan if she would like to come to a ‘party’.
“Come and meet some of my other friends Megan, they’ll love you as much as I do, perhaps we can go shopping first? I’ll treat you to a new dress so you look great!”
They arrive at the party where Megan meets several men, all with bright smiles but dark intentions. The men flirt and flatter Megan.
When heavily under the influence of alcohol and completely disinhibited, the adults begin performing sexual acts on her, unable to stop them, she has no choice but to wait for it to end.
Sian reassures her that this is because she is beautiful and that she will receive lots more dresses and nice things as a ‘thank you’.
Megan spent more and more time with Sian and increasingly less time at home and school. Although Megan knew deep down that what is happening is wrong, but she didn’t want Sian to think she is ungrateful or a bad friend and so continues to meet the men and be sexually abused.
Megan’s parents started to notice a change in their daughter. She just wasn’t the same anymore, she became increasingly distant and withdrawn. It wasn’t until Megan’s mum noticed a bruise on her arm that she assumed the bullying had gotten worse, but she was thankful that she had found a friend in Sian whom she spent lots of time with.
What’s happening at School Megan? Are you being bullied still? You can tell me, you know. Her mum asked.
“God mum, no – it happened in hockey”
It wasn’t until the school phoned to report Megan’s consistent truanting that she became really concerned, where is Megan going?
Megan was drawn deeper and deeper into a web of sexual exploitation by promises of love, friendship, gifts and blackmail.
It wasn’t until Megan’s mum emptied her kit bag to find the contraceptive pill stuffed at the bottom that her mum became scared. Megan hadn’t got a boyfriend, so why was she taking these – what was going on with her sweet little girl?
When the school called again to speak to Megan’s parents about her constant absences and asked if they had any idea where their daughter was going when she was missing from school, her parents had no explanation. Megan felt out of control.
When Megan returned home, her parents would return to school with her the following day to discuss her ‘absence’ in more detail.
The school counsellor was understanding, she listened to Megan and the suspected horrors were soon confirmed. The school informed the police immediately, but Sian was never caught – it turned out her identity was fraudulent and the IP address was that of an internet café with no security cameras.
Without the help, advice and support of NWG Network Megan’s parents simply wouldn’t have known who to turn to. With the schools support they were confident enough to talk with the police about Megan’s harrowing experiences. The school continues to support Megan today as she and her family learn to cope with living with the trauma of this tormenting experience.
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