Study highlights ‘hidden' plight of sexually exploited boys

By Joe Lepper

| 22 March 2016

Increasing numbers of boys are being trafficked and sexually exploited in the UK but many are "hidden" to services designed to help them, a study has found.

Around one in 20 trafficked boys in 2014 were found to be victims of child sexual exploitation. Picture: The Children's Society

Research conducted by The Children’s Society found that 671 under-18s were trafficked in 2014 – more than double the number recorded in 2012, although the true figures are believed to be far higher.

Around one in 20 trafficked boys in 2014 were found to be victims of child sexual exploitation (CSE), although, again, the true figure is thought to be higher owing to a reluctance among many young men to disclose information.

One police officer told the study team that “with boys, it’s much, much more difficult to get any information in relation to sexual assaults on them. Particularly for boys from other continents like Africa and Asia, it is very difficult to talk about any kind of sexual assault on them.”

The report, called Boys Don't Cry, found boys and young men from religious backgrounds had the double barrier of a “sense of shame” that their “manhood is diminished” as well as that the exploitation had “gone against all their religious beliefs” particularly around homosexuality.

There is also a lack of awareness among professionals about CSE and male victims.

“This study demonstrated something of the scale of sexual exploitation of trafficked boys and young men – but also highlighted the degree to which this is hidden and currently unknowable, partly because of the limited number of trafficked young men who are engaged with support services and their reticence to disclose their experiences,” the report states.

“It also revealed a deep concern about the extreme vulnerability of trafficked boys and young men to sexual exploitation, and about the failure to appropriately consider their needs in the development of policy and practice.”

The report highlighted the way the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which was set up to identify victims of human trafficking and slavery, works as a concern.

It said the NRM checklist for sexual exploitation was too “focused on girls and woman” while “failing to acknowledge the difference for boys and young men, or to identify how the trauma of past abuse may impact on current behaviour”.

The report calls for policymakers and professionals to respond better to the sexual exploitation of trafficked boys and young men.

It said councils, police, health workers, teachers and the Home Office should invest more in training for frontline staff to better identify CSE and support young male victims of trafficking. Child trafficking experts also need better training to understand the effect of CSE on boys.

“For many this means heightened awareness of the indicators which may point to sexual exploitation,” the report states.

“And for specialists working directly with potentially trafficked boys and young men it begins with sensitivity to the messages that individuals may only give piecemeal [information], indirectly or gradually about the exploitation they have experienced.”

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