Following the high-profile convictions of now ex-Conservative MP Imran Ahmad Khan and West Yorkshire PC Alan Dudzinski, now seems an appropriate time to shine a spotlight on the dark world of child sexual abuse. The subject can be difficult to talk about, but we are committed to helping children stay safe, be supported and live their best lives. Knowledge is power, so please take a couple minutes with us to shine a light in the darkness.
Figures from Barnardo’s suggest 1 in 6 under 18’s have been victims of child sexual abuse (CSA) with many more cases going unreported. A recent ITV report also claims that online CSA has increased by 374% in the past two years. Quite honestly, these figures are shocking, but not surprising. The good news is that we really can all play a part in preventing CSA.
So, what exactly is child sexual abuse? It’s classed as any act that forces a child into taking part in sexual activities, whether or not they are aware of what is happening. Within this description, there are two categories, contact and non-contact. The first includes acts such as sexual touching of a child’s body, forcing a child to undress or touch another person, kissing, oral sex and penetrative sex of any kind. Non-contact abuse can happen in-person or online and includes making a child watch or take part in sex acts online or via a smartphone, exposing, flashing, grooming and making, viewing or sharing child abuse images and videos (or forcing a child to do the same).
Any child can be a victim of CSA and in turn, abusers can come from all walks of life. They may be strangers online, or people known to a child in positions of power, such as sports coaches, teachers, faith leaders and, yes, foster carers.
Unfortunately for detection, CSA often leaves no physical marks and abusers are careful to ensure their victims stay quiet by means of threats, special secrets, gifts or guilt. However, there are signs to look out for – if you spot a child displaying any of these, treat them as potential red flags:
- - Using sexual language beyond that expected for their age
- - Not wanting to do an activity they once enjoyed
- - Changes in eating habits
- - Bed-wetting or incontinence not associated with toilet-training
- - Withdrawing from company or mood changes
- - Spending a lot more or a lot less time online/on their smartphone than usual
- - Having unexplained money or new items
- - Self-harm or alcohol/drug misuse
- - Pain, bleeding or discharge in the genital or anal area
- - Having a pregnancy or STI
To help protect any children in your care, have a conversation with them about staying safe. The NSPCC’s PANTS book is a fantastic way to look at the subject with younger children, while for older children and teens, they have a guide to talking about difficult topics. It’s also a great idea to have a ‘safe’ code which older children can send if they feel uncomfortable in a situation. Messaging ‘I think I left my charger plugged in’ can let you know they need picking up from a sleepover immediately, but without awkwardness. Before your child starts a new club or group, always ask to see their safeguarding policy. Any organisation worth their stripes will gladly give you this information.
Finally, if you are concerned that a child is at risk of CSA, you can report the situation anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111/online, or to the Police on 101. If you believe a child to be at immediate risk, call 999.
If you want to discuss anything in this article further, or just fancy chatting about fostering, please contact us. Together we can help children stay safe and feel valued.