The Branch Project is a WMRSASC support service for children and young people under 18 years, or under 24 years for those with additional needs, who are victims and/or at risk of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE).
The child or young person does not have to have formally reported/disclosed CSE to be supported by the Branch Project.
Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person into sexual activity in exchange for something the child or young person needs or wants, or for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator.
The child or young person may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual or there was no physical contact. It can occur via the use of technology, on phones or gaming machines.
Even where a young person is old enough to legally consent to sexual activity, the law states that consent is only valid where they make a choice and have the freedom and capacity to make that choice. If a child feels they have no other meaningful choice, are under the influence of harmful substances or fearful of what might happen if they do not comply (all of which are common features in cases of child sexual exploitation) consent cannot legally be given whatever the age of the child.
Children and young people are often tricked into believing they’re in a loving and consensual relationship. This is called grooming. They may trust their abuser and not understand that they’re being abused.
One of the key factors found in most cases of child sexual exploitation is the presence of some form of exchange (sexual activity in return for something) for the victim and/or perpetrator or facilitator. Child sexual exploitation is never the victim’s fault, even if there is some form of exchange.
The long-term consequences of any form of child abuse can be devastating and early identification and providing support as soon as problems emerge is critical. Child sexual exploitation damages children and like any form of abuse it can have long-lasting consequences that can impact on every part of a child’s life and their future outcomes. Child sexual exploitation has been shown to affect:
- Physical (including sexual) and mental health and well-being.
- Education and training and therefore future employment prospects.
- Family relationships.
- Friends and social relationships, current and as adults.
Child sexual exploitation is complex, and children are often reluctant to disclose experiences of exploitation due to misplaced feelings of loyalty and shame. Many may not recognise what they are experiencing as abuse or that they require support or intervention, believing they are in control or in a healthy consensual relationship.
The Branch Project runs throughout Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire. Branch Project Workers are trained CSE support workers and accredited ISVAs (Independent Sexual Violence Advocates). They provide advocacy, education, intervention and one-to-one support to children and young people who are at risk of or have been a victim of CSE.
Support is always delivered with the consent of the young person, is tailored to their needs and wishes, and is comprised of three interlinked pathways:
Empower – psychosocial educational support interventions are delivered including those whose involvement with the Criminal Justice System (CJS) has finished or where no criminal justice process is pursued.
Cope – Where a disclosure has been made, one-to-one practical and emotional support, including advocacy, is delivered to help a child or young person throughout the Criminal Justice System. We also provide advocacy outside of the criminal justice process (Social Care, Health, Education, Employment, Housing, other voluntary agencies).
Recover – For those who have experienced CSE, one-to-one psychosocial support interventions are delivered including those whose involvement with CJS has finished or where no CJS process is being pursued.