Children with learning disabilities at risk of sexual exploitation
Children with learning disabilities are more vulnerable to Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) than other children, facing additional barriers to their protection and to receiving support, new research published on 10 September 2015, has revealed.
The report, ‘Unprotected, Overprotected: meeting the needs of young people with learning disabilities who experience, or are at risk of sexual exploitation', was commissioned by Comic Relief, and undertaken by Barnardo’s, The Children’s Society, BILD, Paradigm Research and Coventry University.
This issue is particularly hidden, the report reveals, because few children with learning disabilities meet high thresholds for support from services. There is also limited awareness that young people with learning disabilities are sexually exploited.
New resources now available
Spotting the signs of child sexual exploitation leaflets
In September 2015, the “Unprotected, Overprotected” research report identified that children with learning disabilities are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation than others and that they faced additional barriers to their protection and to receiving support.
This work was carried out by a research team from Coventry University, the Children’s Society and Paradigm Research supported by Barnardos and BILD. It was funded by Comic Relief and an additional element was to produce a series of leaflets that identified the signs of sexual exploitation for children with learning disabilities.
Three different leaflets have been produced targeted at:
Unprotected, Overprotected Report
The key findings are:
- Young people with learning disabilities are vulnerable to CSE due to factors that include overprotection, social isolation and society refusing to view them as sexual beings
- Lack of awareness of the sexual exploitation of young people with learning disabilities among professionals also contributes to their vulnerability
- There are gaps in national policy and a lack of implementation of current guidance
- Young people with learning disabilities are often not specifically considered in local multi-agency arrangements for CSE, which has implications for whether those experiencing or at risk of CSE are identified or receive support
- Young people with learning disabilities can face a number of challenges to disclosing CSE, including the negative responses of professionals
To prevent young people with learning disabilities from experiencing, or being at risk of, CSE, and to improve support, the young people interviewed during the research identified four key areas where improvements could be made:
- Education and information on sex and relationships and exploitation
- Earlier, child-centred general support for young people so that issues do not escalate and create risk; this includes being listened to by professionals
- Support to meet their specific learning needs
- Access to more specialist Child Sexual Exploitation services.
The report launch
Karen Bradley MP, the Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation
, addressed the launch of the report. "The Government are revising the guidance on child sexual exploitation, the recommendations in this report will inform this work" she said.
"It is a right for children and young people to expect to be safeguarded from abuse - we must work together to ensure that."
Ann Chivers, Chief Executive of BILD said,“It’s a shocking report. It is deeply troubling that young people with learning disabilities, some of our most vulnerable young people, are being sexually exploited every day. We want to see a balance between child protection and children’s rights. In denying young people with learning disabilities their sexuality and their need for healthy relationship education, we have inadvertently increased their vulnerability.
They need support to be happy, healthy and safe. Such support exists in pockets throughout the four countries but isn’t joined up, doesn’t share good practice and often relies on uncertain budgets rather than the importance of human lives.”
These children are particularly vulnerable that's why perpetrators might target them. says Cassandra Harrison of Barnado's in this BBC interview. View the interview >
As children become more aware of grooming, are abusers increasingly turning their attention to people with learning disabilities? A BBC Radio 4 programme covered this issue in detail in May. Listen here >
How social workers can protect children with learning disabilities from sexual exploitation - an article in Community Care by Emilie Smeaton of Paradigm Research, one of the report's authors. More >
The project team
The report was commissioned by Comic Relief, and undertaken by Barnardo’s, The Children’s Society, British Institute of Learning Disabilities (BILD), Paradigm Research and Coventry University.