The Branch Project – Information for Adults
The Branch Project is a WMRSASC support service for victims of Child Sexual Exploitation.
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 (CYP) under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the CYP needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The CYP may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology.
Child Sexual Exploitation:
- can affect any child or young person (male or female) under the age of 18 years, including 16 and 17 year olds who can legally consent to have sex;
- can still be abuse even if the sexual activity appears consensual;
- can include both contact (penetrative and non-penetrative acts) and non-contact sexual activity;
- can take place in person or via technology, or a combination of both;
- can involve force and/or enticement-based methods of compliance and may, or may not, be accompanied by violence or threats of violence;
- may occur without the child or young person’s immediate knowledge (through others copying videos or images they have created and posting on social media, for example);
- can be perpetrated by individuals or groups, males or females, and children or adults. The abuse can be a one-off occurrence or a series of incidents over time, and range from opportunistic to complex organised abuse; and is typified by some form of power imbalance in favour of those perpetrating the abuse. Whilst age may be the most obvious, this power imbalance can also be due to a range of other factors including gender, sexual identity, cognitive ability, physical strength, status, and access to economic or other resources.
Department for Education – Child Sexual Exploitation: Definition and a Guide for Practitioners, Local Leaders and Decision Makers Working to Protect Children from Child Sexual Exploitation – February 2017
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 don’t comply (all of which are common features in cases of child sexual exploitation) consent cannot legally be given whatever the age of the child.
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. All children and young people under the age of 18 have a right to be safe and should be protected from harm.
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 longlasting 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; and
- Their relationship with their own children in the future.
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 and Herefordshire. Branch Project Workers are trained CSE support workers. They provide education, intervention and one-to-one support to children and young people (CYP) who are at risk of or have been a victim of CSE.
Support is always delivered with the consent of the CYP, is tailored to their needs and wishes and is comprised of three interlinked pathways:
Prevention – Education is provided in schools and outreach settings to CYP as well as CSE specific one-to-one interventions to CYP who have been identified as being at risk of CSE.
Cope – Where a disclosure of CSE has been made, one-to-one practical and emotional support is delivered to CYP to help support a CYP throughout the Criminal Justice System (CJS).
Recover – For those who have experienced CSE, one-to-one psychosocial support interventions is delivered to CYP including those whose involvement with CJS finished or where no CJS process is being pursued.