YOUNG RUNAWAYS AND CHILDREN ABUSED THROUGH PROSTITUTION: WORKING GROUP CONSULTATION PAPER
GUIDANCE FOR PROFESSIONALS WORKING WITH CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE ABUSED THROUGH SEXUAL EXPLOITATION THROUGH PROSTITUTION
There are children sexually exploited through prostitution across Scotland. We do not know how many children and young people are involved but we do know that it is happening. We also know that children and young people may not always recognise that they are being abused or exploited. Sexual exploitation through prostitution robs a child of their childhood. It is abuse. Children and young people need support to prevent exploitation and to help them to exit. The focus of the police and legal process should be directed at those who exploit and abuse children in this way.
While this may be more commonly perceived to be an issue affecting girls boys can also be abused through prostitution and professionals should be aware of the risks to boys and their need for support.
3. This Guidance is for police, health, social services, education and all other agencies and professionals that may work with children.
- Children's welfare and safety must be the paramount consideration when decisions are made about them.
- Sexual exploitation of children through prostitution is abuse
- Children and young people cannot consent to their own abuse and exploitation
- Children and young people have the right to be protected from abuse and exploitation
- The focus of the criminal justice system should be targeted at adults who abuse and coerce children.
- Children have the right to safety, stability and security of care
- Children have a right to express their views and for their views to be taken into account when decisions are made about them.
- Agencies should work in partnership with children and young people
- Agencies should work in collaboration to protect and support children and young people
- Children have a right to express concerns in confidence in so far as their safety and that of others is not compromised.
4. For the purposes of this Guidance, a child or young person is a boy or girl under the age of 18.
5. Sexual exploitation through prostitution is difficult to define. It may include the provision of sexual services in exchange for some form of payment, such as money, drink, drugs or consumer goods or even a bed and a roof over one's head for a night. In some cases there may be no exchange of material goods and the child or young person may not recognise that they are being sexually exploited. The relationship, however, will generally be characterised by coercion and intimidation.
Identifying Children at Risk of Sexual Exploitation
6. Children sexually exploited through prostitution may not be visible on the streets. It is important that professionals are aware of the potential indicators that a child or young person may be involved in prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation. A list of potential indicators is at Annex A.
Local Protocols - Development
7. Local protocols should be developed to respond to young runaways and children being sexually exploited through prostitution. It is for local agencies to decide whether they wish to develop 2 separate protocols or a joint protocol. It is important that any protocols are placed within the wider spectrum of services for children in need. Child Protection Committees have a key role in the development and monitoring of any protocol.
Protocols should be developed involving representatives from:
- local authorities (education and social services);
- health services;
- the police;
- the criminal justice service;
- Scottish Children's Reporter's Administration;
- relevant voluntary agencies; and
- the local inter-agency domestic violence forum.
8. Child Protection Committees may wish to involve other agencies with a relevant interest in this issue, including relevant local and national voluntary organisations (where they have a local presence). Consideration should be given to involving relevant other professionals such as local Sheriffs and the Procurator Fiscal. Young people who have experience of being sexually exploited through prostitution or running away, and who are willing to help and advise, should also be involved, as appropriate.
Local Protocols - Content
- Include a clear statement that sexual exploitation through prostitution is abuse and should be treated accordingly.
- Include information on the roles and responsibilities of individual agencies and recognise the legal responsibilities of parents and carers.
- Stress that all young people in residential care should be provided with advice on sexual health, drug misuse and other matters relating to their personal safety and welfare. Staff should be equipped to discuss matters of sexuality and sexual health, drug or alcohol misuse, running away, offending or other high risk behaviour with the young people in their care and to respond to young people's concerns. Young people should be able to discuss these issues in confidence, provided there are no concerns about their safety.
- Recognise that when young people are involved in, or at risk of, sexual exploitation or abuse, practitioners will need to consider how to approach the issue with the young person concerned. How the issue is tackled will depend on the young person's age, vulnerability and understanding and the specific circumstances of each case. It may be appropriate to consult with others about the child's circumstances, particularly if abuse is likely to be one of many problems that the young person is experiencing.
- Encourage young people's residential units, in partnership with the police, to consider what protective action should be taken to ensure that vulnerable children in their care are not targeted by adults (or other young people) in the community who might wish to exploit them or involve them in high risk or criminal activities. Consideration should also be given to any action to be taken if there are concerns about a young person's associates.
- Contain guidance on the sharing of information between agencies. The need to ensure proper protection of children requires that agencies share information promptly and effectively when necessary. Guidance on sharing information is contained in Protecting Children - A Shared Responsibility.
- Confirm that when discussing the issue with the young person the practitioner must be clear about how information will be dealt with and any limits to confidentiality.
- Provide information for professionals on the warning signs that might indicate that a young person is involved in prostitution.
- Include guidance on the importance of providing follow-up interviews for children who have returned to care having run away. Staff should be aware of the signs of involvement in prostitution/sexual exploitation.
- Emphasise the importance of treating any complaints or concerns raised by a child or member of their family seriously. Professionals should be aware of the risks that a child may be being groomed or lured into high risk situations.
- Advise the action that must be taken to protect the child if a professional believes that a child may be involved in prostitution. In many instances this will include the triggering of child protection procedures.
- Emphasise that the priority must be to secure the best interests of the child. Any criminal justice action must focus on investigating and prosecuting those who are involved in abusing a child (this includes those who sexually abuse a child and those who coerce or are involved in the prostitution of a child). Careful consideration should be given to whether a crime has been committed. Staff from any agency, who gain knowledge about the activities of abusers should ensure the police are informed, whilst ensuring the confidentiality of the young person is maintained. Police and social work staff will need to work together to ensure that if there are investigations into allegation of sexual abuse or exploitation, the young person is protected.
Support for the Child
- Emphasise the need to support rather than stigmatise children who become involved in sexual exploitation through prostitution.
- Emphasise the importance of supporting young people leaving care to assist them in accessing accommodation/balancing finances and making the transition to independent living.
- Recognise that it may take time for a young person to exit prostitution or a sexually exploitative relationship. It is important to support them through this process. A child may need support for a range of issues over a significant period of time including safe and supported accommodation; access to employment, education or training opportunities; the establishment of a positive network of friends and relatives to offer continuing support and drug or alcohol services. An exit strategy should be developed with the child and address the individual needs of that child.
The Barnardo's Street Team provides a crisis responsive service to vulnerable and at risk young people in Glasgow city centre and surrounding areas who have nowhere to stay at night, have run away, are at risk of being abused through prostitution, or may be involved with drugs or alcohol. The Team operates a streetwork service at night as well as providing a follow-up service during the day, the primary aim of which is to link young people into mainstream services and advocate on their behalf. An underlying principle of the work is the practice of involving young people in developing their own solutions to allow them to retain control and choice.