The normalisation of underage sex has left children and young people in serious risk of sexual exploitation, a report from the Family Education Trust has found.
The 152-page report, called Unprotected: how the normalisation of underage sex is exposing children and young people to the risk of sexual exploitation, analyses high-profile cases of child sexual exploitation.
It has claimed the early sexualisation of children, whereby underage sexual activity has come to be viewed as a normal part of growing up, is a significant part of the problem.
The report, which also examines the findings of serious case reviews of child sexual exploitation in several parts of England, including Rochdale and Oxfordshire, alongside Professor Alexis Jay’s Independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham 1997-2013, claims the failure of professionals to detect abuse is only part of the problem.
In the report, author Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust, warned that a cultural acceptance of early sexual activity is a ‘fundamental flaw’ in professional attitudes, which has ‘directly contributed to exploitation and abuse’.
He argued the agencies tasked with protecting young people from exploitation have overlooked the themes which emerged from these case reviews, such as a presumption that sexual activity involving children of a similar age (or with an age gap of just a few years) is consensual and will not normally involve child sexual exploitation.
There was also a ‘failure to recognise that sexual activity between young people of similar ages may still involve abuse or exploitation’, and that ‘a culture in which underage sexual activity is not challenged … hence becomes normalised’.
He said this had led to a serious failure on the part of professionals to raise questions about underage sex, with a tendency to dismiss parental concerns and to regard parents as part of the problem.
Mr Wells also commented on the government’s sex education programmes, stating: ‘The message that children and young people must be left free to decide for themselves “when they are ready” to embark on a sexual relationship is failing them and exposing them to the risk of sexual exploitation.
‘We should be wary of any approach to sex and relationships education that is reluctant to declare anything “wrong”. Children, young people and professionals alike all need a clear moral compass in order to safely negotiate the confused and confusing landscape that lies before them’. The full report is available for £7.50 at www.familyeducationtrust.org.uk