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Some young people become involved in exploitative situations and relationships. With a promise of ‘something’ (food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) vulnerable young people are enticed to engage in sexual activities.
Young people in out-of-home care are particularly vulnerable
Having had experiences of:
- Disrupted family life and domestic violence
- History of physical or sexual abuse
- Poor mental health and low self-esteem
- Marginalised and limited social connection
- Substance Use
Young people in OoHC are particularly vulnerable to the seduction and manipulation of offenders who are skilled at 'grooming' them, using attention, flattery, and the promise of car rides, drugs and alcohol, or a new mobile phone.
Sexual exploitation can range from very subtle experiences or more overt cases.
Young people can become involved in relationships, often with older men, that they believe to be loving and caring where they are made to feel ‘special’, given gifts. However these are often exploitative with inappropriate control, power and force and lack any real ‘choice’. These leave them with many unmet needs such as connection, belonging, positive regard and affection.
In some circumstances these can mean young people are forced to engage in sexual activities with other people by the person they are in a relationship with.
At the more extreme end, there are young people who can get involved in formal commercial sexual exploitation, i.e. sex work.
Whilst the majority of young people who are sexually exploited are girls and young women, boys and young men are equally at risk. This will often remain more hidden as they are less likely to disclose these experiences because of the associated stigma.
Some signs these things may be occurring would be:
- Being picked up in cars by unknown adults
- Associating with other young people who are involved with older men
- They believe they are in a loving romantic relationship with an adult
- Unexplained money or gifts that have come from unknown sources
- Going missing for periods of time
- Sexual health concerns Increased substance use
So what can I do?
- Be alert and report details to appropriate contacts
- Encourage positive meaningful supports such as other adults, peers
- Be brave and talk about relationships
- Be interested in their lives and what they are doing
- Challenge their understanding of healthy relationships, reframe their experiences
- Maintain a safe, secure relationship and environment.
- Be careful not to make presumptions about what is going on
- If you feel that the young person you are caring for may be involved in such behaviours it would be best to discuss it with your appropriate supports or their case managers.