Improving responses to child sexual exploitation

Sexual exploitation affects children and young people from all backgrounds regardless of culture, gender, socio-economic status or religion. It impacts children living with their families, living independently and those living in out-of-home care.

Sexual exploitation of children is defined as:

'… children and young people under 18 being involved in exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where the young person (or third person or persons) receive ‘something’ (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of them performing, and/or another or others performing on them, sexual activities.

Child sexual exploitation can occur through the use of technology without the child’s immediate recognition: for example being persuaded to post sexual images on the internet/mobile phones without immediate payment or gain.

In all cases, those exploiting the child/young person have power over them by virtue of their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources. Violence, coercion and intimidation are common, involvement in exploitative relationships being characterised in the main by the child or young person’s limited availability of choice resulting from their social, economic and/or emotional vulnerability.' (Tackling child exploitation: helping local authorities to develop local responses, Barnardo’s, 2012)

Children residing in residential care are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation due to their histories of trauma and abuse and because they are specifically targeted by some sexual predators in the community.

The scale of sexual exploitation presents new challenges for communities, child protection and law enforcement authorities.

Key actions to address sexual exploitation of children

The Department of Health and Human Services and Victoria Police are working together to address the sexual exploitation of children and young people in out-of-home-care. This collaboration has seen many achievements in the effort to address sexual exploitation over recent years, including:

  • The first statewide analysis of the risk of high risk adolescents to sexual exploitation and mapping of the practice approaches and strategies undertaken to prevent and reduce the risk of sexual exploitation.
  • Established a high level governance committee between the department and Victoria Police to oversee the joint work undertaken to protect children and young people.
  • Co-located a child protection practitioner at the Victoria Police – Sex Offender Registry to promote information sharing between Child Protection and police.
  • Commenced statewide training for child protection practitioners on working with high risk adolescents and sexual exploitation.
  • Development of a sexual exploitation reporting tool for child protection practitioners and out-of-home care staff to identify children who are at risk of sexual exploitation. The tool is used by the department and Victoria Police to share information, investigate and coordinate efforts to disrupt and prosecute offenders.
  • Established the Protecting Children protocol between the department and Victoria Police and the issue specific addendum protocol to respond to sexual exploitation.
  • Initiated a state-wide training program for child protection practitioners, police, and residential care workers to be trained together regarding identification of risk of sexual exploitation and how to respond to protect children and young people.
  • Developed new child protection practice guide regarding working with children and young people at risk of sexual exploitation.
  • New Victorian grooming legislation commenced.

Keeping Children Safe from Sexual Exploitation Strategy

In June 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services convened an interdepartmental committee to promote cross-departmental collaboration to keep children and young people safe from sexual exploitation.

In July 2015 the whole-of-government Keeping Children Safe from Sexual Exploitation Strategy was endorsed to help prevent and protect children from sexual exploitation, and prosecute and disrupt perpetrators who prey on vulnerable children. The interdepartmental committee chaired by the department is leading the implementation of this sexual exploitation strategy.

Key initiatives under the strategy include:

  • an enhanced response model being developed by senior police and Department of Health and Human Services staff for children who are absent from care – such as residential or foster care - and are at risk of sexual exploitation
  • improved use and sharing of data and information to improve the identification of at risk young people, the intervention and disruption of sexual exploitation and support prosecution of offenders
  • a partnership with the Department of Education and Training to develop and implement an education plan that will raise community awareness of sexual exploitation
  • improved training for child protection, police and residential carers
  • a residential care workforce quality initiative to improve the skills and professional capabilities of the residential care workforce.

As part of the strategy four new specialist sexual exploitation child protection practitioners placed in the department’s four operational divisions will lead practice on the ground to support the child protection workforce and strengthen the relationship with Victoria Police and other local service providers.

No single agency can protect children and young people at risk of, or experiencing, sexual exploitation. This strategy reflects a strong collaborative approach with good systems for sharing information and timely decision-making and responses, which is critical to improving safety for these children and young people.

Further information

  • If you have any questions about the Sexual Exploitation Strategy, please contact the Department of Human services Child Protection unit on 9096 7899.
  • To report concerns that are life threatening, call Victoria Police 000.
  • If you think a child is being sexually exploited, please contact your local child protection office during business hours, or call the Child Protection Crisis Line on 13 12 78 out of hours.

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