The impact of child sexual exploitation

Child Sexual Exploitation has a devastating, long-term impact on the child who is abused, but also for the whole family.

How does sexual exploitation affect a child?

Once a child is entrapped in a cycle of sexual exploitation, it can be difficult for their parents to understand why they return to their abusers. The best way to explain this is that the control and manipulation the child is under is very similar to that experienced by victims of domestic violence.

Repeated sexual abuse will result in fear of being blamed or not being believed, a lack of self esteem and worthlessness, but also misplaced loyalties towards the perpetrators. For many children, the abuse equates to their first experience of sex and love, of which they have no prior experience to measure it against. It is also important to remember that sexually exploited children are often explicitly threatened with violence if they disclose the abuse. It is common for their family to be threatened, so the child may feel they are protecting you, the parent, by enduring the abuse.

Sadly, child sexual exploitation can leave some young people with serious long-term emotional and physical effects. You may prefer to read about these once you have spoken to a Pace parent support worker and are certain of your child’s exposure to it. That way you can ensure you have the necessary support and knowledge in order to deal with the reality of what your child is experiencing.

For information on how to manage the everyday stress of living with child sexual exploitation, please read our guide to Living With Child Sexual Exploitation.

How does child sexual exploitation impact on the family?

The sexual exploitation of their child is a terrible thing for a parent to witness. Many parents who work alongside Pace have reported feelings such as anger, guilt, shame, embarrassment, confusion and profound isolation. On a practical level, parents may find:

  • Their child may act violently or out of control. They may be truanting from school and in trouble from the police
  • They encounter judgemental attitudes from those in authority, who may adhere to the stereotype that your child is making a ‘lifestyle choice’ or merely rebelling against their upbringing
  • You may get into trouble at work for having to constantly chase up your child and locate their whereabouts
  • Your relationship or marriage may come under strain, whether you are a parenting as a couple or co-parenting due to separation
  • You may experience mental health problems or manifestations of stress and exhaustion

For a guide on how to manage the everyday stress of living with child sexual exploitation, please go to Living With Child Sexual Exploitation in our Advice Centre.

How child sexual exploitation impacts on other children in the family

Parents who work with Pace often report that the exploitation of one child in the family places other children in the family of risk of exploitation at the same hands – so it is important to assess this risk as quickly as possible. In addition, siblings may be subjected to name-calling by their peers if the affected child’s sexual exploitation becomes public. Siblings may also feel that they are losing out emotionally as your energies are drained on the affected child.

Help is available

Although the affects of child sexual exploitation can be long-term, information and support is available to help. Talk to Pace about our:

To access local help, check out the directory of the National Working Group.