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Child exploitation risk tops the agenda after Gloucester city arrests

By The Citizen  |  Posted: March 28, 2014

Amanda Wilsdon, an expert on child sexual exploitation and human trafficking

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As police trawl through evidence after uncovering an alleged child sex abuse case, the true extent of exploitation in the city is slowly being revealed.

The four arrests made on charges of child sexual exploitation and human trafficking by Gloucestershire Police shocked the city.

Two men, aged 22 and 19 were arrested along with two women aged 45 and 20. They face charges against children including trafficking, rape, sexual assault and sexual grooming.

They have all been released on police bail.

It is the first investigation of this size dealt with by the newly formed sexual exploitation unit at Gloucestershire Police.

Amanda Wilsdon is trafficking and grooming co-ordinator for Gloucestershire Domestic Violence Support and Advocacy Project in Kingsholm.

She said the internet has changed the sexual landscape for young people, placing them at unprecedented levels of risk.

“In CSE cases there is an element of organisation and opportunism and total lack of respect for a child,” she said.

“Grooming is the process when a young person is given something. “That could be attention or a place to stay. They may not be asked to do anything for a long period of time and an element of trust is built up between victim and perpetrator.

“Before they realise what is happening it is too late to go back.

“In some cases, fast food is used as a hook in. Any older person can target a child and work out their vulnerabilities.

“Some things make a child more vulnerable, like abuse at home, mental health in the family, substance abuse or inappropriate accommodation. Others are just vulnerable because they are young.

“Someone builds trust, extracts information and knows how to press their buttons. The adult has power over the child and gets them to do things they wouldn't normally do. The classic image of a sex offender in a dirty raincoat is still around, but the average age of a perpetrator now is around 20.

“The landscape has changed, mainly due to the internet. When the ‘50 Shades of Grey’ book came out it normalised extreme sexual behaviour. In my opinion, the main character was a nasty little power hungry perpetrator. There were some very strong women endorsing that behaviour. It is a huge deal as it normalises that behaviour.

“Children are risk takers, adolescence is about kicking down boundaries. They are ripe for the picking and vulnerable because they are young.”

The law states internal trafficking is moving one person from place to another for the purpose of exploitation. Under legislation, with children there doesn’t have to be a threat of violence or proof of coercion, just that the person is under 18.

A child cannot possibly consent to being trafficked or exploited. In 2010, Derbyshire Police cracked open a child sex gang of 13 men who had exploited 27 victims. In Oxford last year, police there uncovered a sadistic child sex ring that saw seven Asian men jailed.

Amanda said more cases are appearing in court due to improved detection methods and better public awareness.

The process for court for victims of Child Sexual Exploitation can be harrowing, she added.

“We have seen cases in Derby and Oxford where a young person was cross examined by nine different defence barristers,” she said.

“A perpetrator will claim the victim was consenting in a lot of cases with older girls. It is her word against his. If the police investigate before an arrest is made and can prove trafficking, the case becomes less reliant on using the child as a witness.

“We have spoken with police elsewhere who have worked on CSE and trafficking cases who have taken 300 different DNA samples from beds seized from properties. Before and after photos of the girls involved were harrowing.

“Their eyes are completely shot away, empty. One of the kids was so damaged, she will never be able to give evidence.

“We are up against it, but when awareness is raised, we can make a difference and change things. It is in schools and in the public psyche now.

"Awareness of the risk of exploitation still needs to go wider.”

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