Report: Hidden effects – the health implications of CSE on parents

A new report Evaluating the Health Implications of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) on Parents, commissioned by Pace (Parents against child sexual exploitation) and undertaken by the University of Worcester, examines the often hidden impacts of CSE across the wider family.

‘I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in the last decade, at least 10 years. I wake up at three o’clock every morning, I don’t know why. I have no idea. And I’m finding it more distressing than just being up all night.’

‘Yeah, I was getting panic attacks. Never had them before and I was getting them driving in the car. And it was when I was getting closer to home I was getting these panic attacks. I was in control outside of the home but when I was in the home I wasn’t in control.’

The findings in the report underline the complex and insidious nature of CSE that differentiates it from other forms of child sexual abuse and add further to its complexity in considering the collateral effect of CSE on the health of wider family members, particularly parents.

‘…you deal with it and then you have to get on, on autopilot, and you have to deal with your other children. And there’s a good side to that, but also you neglect yourself because of that.’

The health impacts of CSE on siblings, partners and wider family members include depression, self-harm, guilt, counselling, and stress leading to relationship breakdown.

‘I lost a lot of weight – I went right down to seven-and-a-half stone. I used to cook every day for my children but I couldn’t eat.’

‘It’s an ongoing battle. Initial shock is horrific but the living with it is never ending. Medication is necessary otherwise cannot function to go out to work, look after children.’

The online survey found that 88% of respondents felt that their experiences of CSE had impacted their general health. This included both physical and psychological symptoms, from headaches and stomach pain to disturbed sleep, anger, and thoughts of ending their life. A high proportion (72%) reported that they had been prescribed medication intended to help them cope with the effects of CSE.

‘I withdrew …. I stopped going out and socialising because we used to go out and socialise but if ever people asked me to go out I felt like I couldn’t go out….I’d put so much energy into sorting this out, that’s why I withdrew, because I didn’t have anything else to give anywhere else.’

The report makes a number of recommendations, including the need for all frontline professionals (health, social care, police, educators) to have specific training with regard to the nature of CSE, its associated processes and an awareness of appropriate specialist services and agencies. It proposes that parental health should be maximised and promoted in order to enable them to best care for their children, and suggests that further research might usefully explore the effect of CSE on the health of siblings and extended family.

Download the open access report (PDF file, 1MB).