"The snake with many heads": A qualitative study on the perceptions of Child Sexual Exploitation professionals in the South East of England

Research Institution / Organisation

Canterbury Christ Church University

Level of Research


Project Start Date

September 2018

Research Context

The government, in an attempt to tackle child abuse on a national scale, issued this definition of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

"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 under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim 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." (Gov.uk, 2017).

Although this definition attempts to make sense of what child sexual exploitation is in a broad sense, what it doesn’t capture is just how devastating the crime can be for both the victims and families, often with long lasting consequences. It also omits the nuanced and complicated relationship between being a victim of CSE and committing a crime, which often overlaps (Halter, 2010; Cockbain and Brayley, 2012;2014; Walker, 2013; Cole, Sprang, Lee and Cohen, 2016).

During 2013, safeguarding agencies in Kent became increasingly concerned about the proliferation of child sexual exploitation, particularly involving ethnic communities in East Kent (Safeguarding annual report, 2013). Within this localized document, authorities highlighted a need "to improve the evidence base in order to improve the overall response from health" (Safeguarding Annual Report, 2013, p.4). Following the 2013 report, two thematic reviews were conducted on children involved in CSE in Kent (The sexual exploitation of child: It couldn’t happen here, could it?" Ofsted, 2016; Kent joint strategic needs assessment, 2015). These highlighted a need for greater awareness in the local area and the necessity for the "voice of the child" in order to fully understand the issue and safeguard further children. 

Building upon this literature, in order to place young people’s experiences in context, it is also paramount to examine professionals' understanding of CSE in order to understand how they conceptualize the phenomena (Halter, 2010). The proximity to Europe is a major concern for authorities when discussing CSE due to the unique nature of criminality on the south coast of England (Al-Faris, 2015; Crocker, 2015; MacGregor, 2017; Hadfield, 2018). Understanding how this affects the way in which the police perceive CSE and respond is paramount to developing policies in the future. By gathering rich qualitative data, researchers can begin to build a picture of the landscape of CSE in Kent and Medway. This has the potential to aid design and implementation of interventions within local schools, to inform students on CSE and prevent victimization.

There is currently a large gap in the literature in regards to local agencies and the way in which they perceive and respond to CSE.

Research Aim: To explore a regional perspective of CSE professionals perceptions and responses to CSE

Research Questions:

1.  What are CSE professionals perceptions as to the type and frequency of CSE models?
2.  What are CSE professionals perception of CSE and links to other criminality?

1.  What approaches do CSE professionals adopt when working with CSE?
2.  What are the ongoing developmental and resource needs identified by CSE professionals?

Research Methodology

Qualitative methodology using Thematic Analysis to capture nuanced data.

The measures used will include;

Semi- structured interview design based upon existing literature (Sexual Exploitation Risk Assessment Framework, 2007; CSE Barnardos model of practice, 2017; Child Sexual Exploitation: Definition and Practitioner Briefing Paper. Scottish Government,2016)

Participants will be ;
• 10-12 professionals

Purposive/convenience sample.
The sample utilizes existing links who were easy to contact, however, there were explicit choices made of whom to interview (Palys, 2006; Etikan, 2016) – interview 1-2 people who approach to be involved in the project and referrals from there.

Inclusion criteria:

  • Currently work CSE cases
  • Work in Kent and Medway
  • 18 years or older
  • Selection of x number of professionals from certain areas.

Interim reports and publications

Not available

Date due for completion

August 2019
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