As you consider your opportunities to address commercial sexual exploitation of children (or CSEC), take a moment to consider a child’s perspective, their experience of the world around them, and how you connect with that experience.
First, think about a child. Their self-perception, values, and personal skills are always changing, and all of these affect how they navigate the world around them.
Every child is vulnerable to CSEC, just by nature of being a kid. However, some children (such as children in foster care) experience compounding vulnerabilities, which put them at higher risk of CSEC. These children may also have developed attitudes and behaviors that might seem negative (such as acting out or running away). Keep in mind that those behaviors were likely developed as a way for them to adapt to difficult situations in their past – or in their present.
Next, consider a child’s “inner circle”—the trusted adults they’ve chosen to confide in and listen to.
This could be any adult in any role. It might be a parent, but it might not. It could be a favorite teacher, a school nurse, or a volunteer at a community center. For children in foster care, it could be a CASA, case manager, or foster parent.
If you find that you are a trusted adult in a child’s life, you may have visibility into warning signs that others might not see - and you may be able to speak into a child’s life in ways that others might not.
Next, think about a child’s living situation—which is anywhere a child has their basic needs met. This could be a family household, but it could also be a foster placement, a group home, a youth shelter, or even a detention facility.
If you interact with a child in their living situation, you are able to see how and whether basic needs are being met and whether certain vulnerabilities or warning signs of CSEC exist. You may also have more insight into what’s most important to them, how they spend their time, who they spend their time with, and how they access and use technology.
Next, think about all of the places a child goes within a community for support. This could be a healthcare provider, a school, or a community-based organization, just to name a few.
If you interact with a child in one of these settings, you’ll have a different perspective than a trusted adult or an adult who interacts with the child in their living situation. Your interactions will likely focus on your expertise and providing a specific type of support. Depending on that expertise, you may be more attuned to certain vulnerabilities, and you may be well-positioned to utilize that expertise and access available resources and tools to respond.
Lastly, think about all of the systems that affect how a child experiences their world. These could be based on geography, such as local or state policies and laws that impact a child’s life. Or they could be based on new developments across sectors such as healthcare or education, just to name a few.
While you may not interact directly with a child in this context, your actions still have an important effect on how a child moves through the world. For example, a child in the foster care system, particularly those at highest risk of CSEC, often experience multiple placements in multiple jurisdictions.
Remember that you likely have more than one opportunity or avenue to connect with and support children.
For example, you might be a trusted adult for one child, while also providing support to children in the community as a volunteer. Or you might interact with the living situation of a child while supporting other children in an educational setting.
Take a moment to consider – what are all the ways in a child’s world where you connect?
No matter how or where you might interact with a child, remember that your specific connections and context will present you with unique opportunities to recognize, respond to, and prevent CSEC.