Understanding child sexual exploitation: getting the language right

The subject of child sexual exploitation is often difficult to talk about and the language used by the media, by politicians and by organisations is often powerful and emotional but sometimes confusing.

Recently, Ann Coffey, the Labour MP for Stockport, has suggested that the language we use to describe child exploitation should be changed. Specifically, she called for the phrase ‘child prostitution’ removed from official documents.

Though this may not seem like a big deal, the language we use to talk about difficult subjects can have a big impact of how we think about them and making sure we get it right is really important.

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Why are the words we use important?

The words that we use to describe child sexual exploitation and the way we talk about it can have a big impact on how the public view victims and how the young people are involved view themselves.

Ann Coffey believes that the phrase ‘child prostitution’ makes people think that it’s the victims who at fault, when in fact exploitation is always the fault of the people who are taking advantage of young people for their own gain.

If we stop using the phrase ‘child prostitution’ when reporting these stories in newspapers, on TV or on social media, and use different words instead, we can start to change the way people think about the subject and make life better for anyone affected by exploitation.

Is sexual exploitation ever the fault of the victim?

Whenever young people are used for sex, made to do things they’re not comfortable with or groomed by older people, one of the most important things to remember is it’s not their fault. By taking the term ‘prostitution’ out of the discussion, we can make this even clearer.

Unlike the phrase ‘child prostitution’, when people hear a phrase like ‘child exploitation’ they automatically assume the young person is not at fault, understanding from the words used that they have been taken advantage of by another person.

Who should you talk to if you want to find out more?

Whichever words we use to talk about the subject, one thing never changes; if you or anyone you know is being groomed, exploited or is at risk, there are plenty of people and organisations out there to help.

Whether you tell a teacher, a parent, a friend or go online and get in touch with us via our live chat or even call us, completely confidentially, on 0808 800 1037, the first step is to reach out and ask for help. Once you’ve got a bit of support, tackling the problem and getting yourself or your friend out of danger will be a whole lot easier.