Child sexual exploitation: a guide for health practitioners

Guidelines for health practitioners on identifying and responding to a child or young person who may be at risk of or affected by sexual exploitation.

7. What young people want from a health practitioner

Work with young people [7] has provided some clear messages about what they want from health and other professionals:

  • Professional curiosity. Young people who did not feel able to disclose abuse have said that they would have liked someone to notice their struggles and ask them about it; some young people who have disclosed abuse said they were able to do so because someone noticed the signs or impact of abuse and asked about it. There is also evidence that young people who were asked about abuse at a time when they were not ready to disclose that abuse or did not recognise that they were being exploited later used that experience as a pathway to disclose abuse.
"But I never really erm, I never really, I didn't understand what was wrong and I never went and asked for help, but no one ever asked me if I needed help and I think, looking back it was, like, I don't know, kind of the indicators you get if someone's being abused were there." [8]
  • Calm and safe communication. Young people have expressed preferences to be asked about child sexual exploitation in a professional but conversational way; to be provided with a safe space in which to talk; for confidentiality to be explained; and for communication to be accessible (age/developmentally appropriate, responsive to their own terminology, e.g. for a person they are having sex with).

"I felt like that (the police) were getting really annoyed with me 'cause I didn't have the words for a lot of the things. So I was trying to explain things to them, and they were just looking at me, and they were like, 'why don't you know what it's called? And I was just, 'I don't know'. So, they said that I was a irrel - unreliable witness, because, I didn't have umm, the correct words." [9]

  • Respect, action and support. Key features where young people had positive experiences of trying to disclose abuse were that the practitioner believed them, that action was taken to protect the young person and that the young person had access to some form of emotional support.
  • Information and explanation. Young people wanted to be involved in and informed about decisions that were taken, plans that were made, and how the process was progressing. This was described as particularly important because the experience of exploitation may have left the young person with anxieties around loss of control.
"I've told the doctor. I hate doctors. Went in several times and said OK something is wrong, I need some help - I cut myself, I feel entirely depressed, I've tried to kill myself. Every time they'd just say I'm being silly and to go home and grow up." [10]

For information on resources about working with and talking to children and young people, see Appendix 1


Email: Katrina McDonald

Phone: 0300 244 4000 - Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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