I had to go to my local MP and say I am trying
to stop my daughter coming home in a body
These words of a parent speak volumes. They reflect the fear,
agony, anticipated loss and helplessness experienced by a parent
whose daughter’s life is at risk. They speak of a parent’s fight to
stop an ultimate loss she may have to suffer and the ultimate cost
her child and their family may have to pay.
THE TRUE COST Introduction
TO FAMILIES OF
Child sexual exploitation (CSE) has devastating consequences not
CHILD SEXUAL just to victims, but to those around them. Some of these costs are
EXPLOITATION directly obvious while others are more subtle, hidden and not
readily apparent. True cost to families refers to the full cost
incurred by the whole of the family unit particularly the parents,
CROP Conference but also siblings, grandparents and other wider family members.
Estimation of these costs require a wider understanding of sexual
2009 exploitation of children and an analysis of costs beyond those that
The nature of CSE is that it is a course of conduct rather than an
Briefing Paper isolated incident leading to a series of serious sexual and other
offences. It is best described as a process of involving children in
sexual activities through means such as deceit, manipulation,
coercion, use of violence or of threats or of force, with cumulative
Aravinda Kosaraju effect on children, families, social systems and the community as
Policy and Research Officer a whole. We cannot ignore the recorded financial cost to
statutory agencies, although that is not the key emphasis of this
paper. In England and Wales police recorded 53,540 sexual
offences in 2007-08 of which 41,460 were recorded under the
category of most serious sexual crime including rape, sexual
assault and sexual offences against children.1 Home Office
research published in 2005 estimated that each adult rape costs
over £76,000 in emotional and physical impact, cost to the health
services and criminal justice system and lost output. The total
cost of sexual offences committed in England and Wales in
2003-04 was estimated at nearly £8.5 billion.2
Most social problems create considerable long-term costs to
society. Those costs can be looked at either as a cost to the
victim; to the society; to the economy; or to the social agencies
tackling the problem such as social care, education, health, police
or other criminal justice agencies.
*Illustration by Helen Anderson from CROP’s STOP! She ‘s my daughter as told
to Christine Miles (2007).
THE TRUE COST TO FAMILIES OF CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION 2
CSE is costly both as an individual and societal problem. It is important to consider both,
although the purpose of this paper is to focus on possibly one of the most hidden - the true cost
to families. During the course of to-day we will be exploring this in a range of different ways.
Before we explore the true cost we ought to discern who the victims and respondents of CSE
are? We would be grossly underestimating the cost of victimisation if we do not address
victimisation broadly to include both frontline victims and those around them whose lives are
affected. Sexual exploitation touches families like a double edged sword forcing them to pay the
price both as victims and as respondents.
Costs borne by frontline victims are often looked at and highlighted with limited or no emphasis
on the costs to those around them whose lives are significantly, if not equally disrupted as a
consequence. This paper looks at the costs of sexual exploitation to families with affected
parents as a measure. It also aims to indicate social costs and the lack of effective interventions
in tackling CSE.
Parents as Victims and as Respondents
CROP works with the parents and families of frontline victims who are desperately concerned
about their child and their energy is directed to protect them. But they too suffer.
Sexually exploited children suffer physical, psychological, behavioural and attitudinal changes;
these all present challenges to the parents and threatens the peace and stability of the family
environment. To cite an example, the victim may direct emotional, verbal and even physical
aggression against parents, siblings or pets resulting in chaos within the family home. The child’s
estrangement from the family achieved by the perpetrator as a result of calculated grooming
leads to strained relationships, broken families, further amplifying social costs. Families are often
compelled to take extraordinary measures in their attempt to care for the frontline victim: some
uproot the family, moving to another city or even country to get away from the cause of the
Parents are sometimes much nearer to being frontline
victims- through threats, assaults and other damage Her mum was mortified
caused by perpetrators. Siblings are targeted in order when she (daughter)
to put pressure on the whole family. The stigma associ- attacked her with a
ated with sexual exploitation and its consequences on wooden hammer.”
the child such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders
and self-harm cause misery and isolation for parents and other family members. Problems with
relationships, truancy and exclusion from school, misuse of harmful substances also add to
Perception of costs of sexual exploitation can also be significantly varied. The child’s perception
of the cost of what is happening may be that she is only being friendly for a return of friendship,
love, gifts, social networks and excitement. Contrary to this parents may perceive the
relationship as not being normal and foresee the long term cost the child is or is likely to pay.
This conflict of perception can itself add to the cost to families.
THE TRUE COST TO FAMILIES OF CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION 3
Parents of sexually exploited children are often ignored (despite the effects on them) or seen as
part of the problem. No doubt there are some parents who are themselves incriminated, but the
parents who come to CROP in hundreds (thousands if only CROP had the capacity to respond)
are genuinely caring parents. They deserve to be respected, not marginalised or disempowered,
as disempowerment produces relentless costs to families and to the society at large.
Respected for what they are? Parents are not mere second line victims, but agents who are the
first to be in the line of fire to protect their child. They have the knowledge, expertise and
capacity to safeguard their child. Their agency in the resistance to and recovery of the child from
the damage caused is significant. Their capacity is, however, undermined by the activities of the
perpetrators and through the exclusion they experience from the responding agencies.
Parental agency, however, is not insulated from their victimhood. It is
If there is one duty straightforward to get a car repaired when it has been smashed by
team in the whole perpetrators, but it is not so easy or simple to overcome the trauma
world that is on duty of knowing their child is being abused. Parents need help, ideas, vi-
all day, everyday sion, accompaniment, legal and technical support. Their agency needs
recognition along with the loss and victimisation incumbent within
24/7 without any
their agency. Such recognition requires responses that are suppor-
boundaries it is the tive, collaborative and inclusive. So what costs do parents pay as vic-
parent. tims of and as agents responding to CSE?
CSE and Families: The Ultimate Cost “I’d like to understand
The most obvious cost that families pay is loss of life either what these pimps are like,
of a parent, the exploited child or another family member. what makes them tick.
Natialie Pearman (16), Fiona Ivison (17), Carly Bateman
(17), Marcella Ann-Davis (18), Tania Nicol (19), Rebecca How they can persuade
Stevenson (19), Samantha Bennet (19), Danielle Moorcroft girls they’re their
(19), Sarah Jane Coughlan (19), Becky Hall (19), Amy boyfriends, and then
Anderson (19), Dawn Shields (19) an endless list of those
children and young women whose lives met a violent end make them sell their body.
as a consequence of sexual exploitation. I suppose that’s drugs too.
They steal people’s lives:
Women in prostitution are 18 times more likely to be
murdered than the general population.4 their hopes and their
CROP, Sheffield Sexual Exploitation Service, Blackpool ‘boyfriend’ did that for
Awaken Project all were formed as a consequence of the
death of a young woman, but are the examples of the four years before her body
ultimate cost both families and social agencies pay. was found.”3
CSE and Families: Health Costs
Parents suffer years of desperation from the time the child starts to behave strangely, starts
truanting, use substances and show signs of the control of perpetrators. The whole family includ-
ing siblings and often extended families are drawn into the turmoil.
THE TRUE COST TO FAMILIES OF CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION 4
Feelings that start off as shock, denial, anger and
resentment towards their child, sense of guilt, self-blame
turn into hatred towards the perpetrator. The anxiety, fear
“This has changed me.
of being judged, shame and embarrassment often stops Nothing will ever shock
them from talking to someone leading to further isolation.
Frustration creeps in as they try to respond to what is me. I am not the same
happening in the family home. Attempting to take control; person, not myself. I am
asserting boundaries; offering positive and negative not emotional any more.”
reinforcements to de-groom the child; seeking professional
help and working to provide a stable environment for
other children all put a strain on their ability to cope.
Armed police came CROP’s work clearly evidences the association between CSE
and parental health resulting in several physical and mental
to search my house
health consequences. Physical injuries directly resulting from
in the middle of the violent attacks both from children and perpetrators are not
night (in response uncommon. Illnesses such as high blood pressure; strokes;
to a complaint of possession reduced immunity; stress and sleeplessness affecting their
of a gun). We were all general well being are commonly observed.
ordered to put our hands
Most common mental health concerns identified amongst
up. I saw my 12 year old boy
parents are stress, anxiety, depression, Post Traumatic Stress
screaming. I was frantic; my Disorder (PTSD), suicidal tendencies and psycho-somatic disor-
boy was rocking back and ders. Emotional problems also lead to mental ill-health and
forth traumatised and other long term health and relational problems. For instance
frightened.” disclosure of sexual abuse of their children led to parents ex-
periencing severe disturbance in their own sexual relation-
Parents are often prescribed anti-depressants, referred to specialist counselling services and are
treated for psychological disturbance with symptoms such as self harm and suicidal attempts.
CSE and Families: The Financial Cost
Sexual exploitation of children brings costs that are real which can only be measured and paid in
tears, in emotions, in sleepless nights, in broken frustrated conversations, in the sense of guilt
and the total breaking of life. One extreme example is the cost to one family that CROP has
come to support (amongst many families whose properties have been criminally damaged in
many ways) whose family house was burnt down allegedly by their daughter’s abusers resulting
in the death of her sibling and the family being made homeless.
Despite its immeasurability, there are some straightforward monetary costs. Child sexual
exploitation drains the resources of parents. Although it is difficult to provide any overall
measurement, this paper looked at the financial costs incurred by three families in three differ-
ent towns across England. These costs are deduced from the obvious expenses incurred by
parents that would have otherwise been avoided, but for the sexual exploitation of their child.
THE TRUE COST TO FAMILIES OF CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION 5
Family confronted with
their 15 year old daughter
Family confronted with their
two daughters exploited by
a group of perpetrators:
Family whose daughter was
targeted by an individual
THE TRUE COST TO FAMILIES OF CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION 6
“ My partner had to sell his treasured collections. We had to pawn jewellery,
sell things from home to meet the expenses.”
The three families paid an average of £7,000 - £8,000 on phone bills, prescription charges, house
repairs caused by violence from the perpetrators and distressed family members, and replacing
broken items. These estimates are conservative and we can only provide an approximation. Not
all costs are readily identifiable. These costs range from increased phone or patrol bills; cost of
criminal damage to property; cost of replacing lost or stolen goods; loss of wages due to sickness
absences; loss of employment; cost of displacements (home and businesses); costs of medical
care including consultations, prescriptions, visits as well as time lost in recovery from ill-health;
travel costs incurred in attending meetings, police enquiries, court proceedings; time and money
spent looking for missing children; legal costs (e.g. separation/divorce proceedings when rela-
tionships breakdown); investigative costs (e.g. hiring a private detective); payments towards
child’s recovery (e.g. detoxification); fines from criminal justice system (e.g. bailing out children
or parking tickets when parents were looking for missing children); child care costs while parents
respond to what is happening to the exploited child; and/or premature funeral expenses.
“ One Sunday morning we woke up to find the house had been graffitied. ‘Rachel
is a cock-sucking slag’ they’d daubed across the house.
W e discovered they’d also spray-painted planks and put them up by the local
shops; we received a threat that our house would be letter-bombed. We had a metal
plate fitted to our door so that post couldn’t be delivered.” 5
CSE and Families: Human, Emotional and Relational (Familial & Social) Costs
In the last 5 years CROP worked with nearly 400 families from across the social and economic
spectrum. However, the differentials in terms of human and emotional costs to parents when
confronted with CSE are small despite the social and other differences. Estimating the non-
monetary human and emotional cost is a formidable task. The pain and suffering, the fear from
threats, fear of loss, and the trauma all act as major detriments to the quality of life and to the
loss of familial integrity. These include suffering the lack of freedom. The parent cannot switch
off at the end of the day, because the sexual exploitation is not a case allocated to a professional,
but a personal and family experience.
Me and her mum split up, we could not cope. Her sister (younger) hated
her for the misery she caused the family.”
THE TRUE COST TO FAMILIES OF CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION 7
Parents find themselves socially isolated because they feel no one will understand what is going
on, or will listen with respect and patience to their experience. But this social isolation is not the
root; it lies in their isolation from themselves, their family members with CSE challenging their
understanding, perspectives and values around relationships and family life. The isolation from
the child, so deliberately engendered by the exploiting groomer, constantly eats away at their
attempts to repair.
Cost of such disruption to social networks and the social-psychological issues associated with
stigma and isolation are also difficult to estimate. Parents commonly experience -
• Breakdown of their relationship with the exploited child. Example, parents unaware of
child’s sexual health issues owing to confidentiality may inadvertently add to
confrontation, strained or severed relationships;
• Strained relationships with other extended family members;
• Marriage and partnership breakdowns caused by stress, conflicting parenting styles or
impact of CSE on parental sexual relationships;
• Disruption of relationships at the workplace owing to lack of understanding, empathy and
resentment for taking time off sick by colleagues and employers;
• Judgemental attitudes from others for not being better parents isolates them from any
other social networks that parents may have, including friends and other community
My friends told me to leave her (daughter), to stop worrying about her.
They don’t understand. I have lost friends. They don’t want to be around.
They think I have changed. How could I leave my child?”
CSE and Families: The True Cost of Inaction
Parents feel that indicators of risk of sexual exploitation are not picked up in the initial stages of
grooming making recovery difficult and often impossible. Safeguarding partners’ responses are
delayed and most often too late for the children. Preventing sexual exploitation is vital to
safeguarding children. Access to appropriate support for victims enabling them to become
agents of recovery and resistance is vital to minimise the long term costs to victims and social
agencies. When those affected are not safeguarded and when perpetrators are not brought to
justice, the residue is the real cost to families and societies. The children who are killed or dam-
aged in various ways whose ‘lost lives’ are unfortunately the glaring examples of the real cost of
Lack of a enforcement priority for safeguarding their children and the lower rate of prosecutions
add to the frustration of parents. While we could say the number of prosecutions has risen over
the last two years, the changes remain insignificant when compared to the number of
THE TRUE COST TO FAMILIES OF CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION 8
perpetrators that go unpunished. The role of parents The men sent her in to
and carers in removing the onus of prosecutions from shops to pinch whiskey
victims and in achieving victimless prosecutions has
for them. As a result,
been highlighted in the recent successful prosecution
brought about by Derbyshire constabulary. Jessica and I went to
court three times for shoplifting.
Some of the costs both to the victim and the family may And once, when Jessica was
appear to evaporate over time either due to outside found lying drunk in the street, I
intervention or due to the child’s efforts or the was also fined by the police. She
perpetrator disappearing from the scene. However,
was fetched out of cells so many
these costs may remain dormant to be transmitted
intergenerationally. times at the police station.” 6
CSE and Families: Inter-generational Costs
70 % of those involved in prostitution started out as children or young teenagers.7
The long term affects of CSE on both children and families is less considered, let alone
researched. Children in their teenage years experience a sense of freedom to positively
experiment and learn in a protective and enabling environment. When teenagers are deprived
of a normal period of experimental but protected risktaking, learning social skills, the costs can
be long-term and profoundly destructive of persons.8 They suffer significant losses affecting
their behavioural, emotional, cognitive and functional abilities. Their isolation from school and
other learning environments has detrimental affect on their education, training and employment
capabilities leading to and absence of self-reliance. The violence and the trauma they encounter
affects their ability to thrive, significantly affecting their development. As prospects for
conventional employment diminish, their lack of choices may make them vulnerable to commer-
cial sexual exploitation.
The long term consequences of child sexual
My son was bullied at exploitation to siblings have not been captured yet in
school. He was called research. Siblings suffer actual or the risk of harm;
names. Pupils shouting at the feeling of being neglected while parents
him...your sister is a whore, concentrate their energy and time on the exploited
sleeping with a …..” child; the trauma and emotional impact of loss of a
sibling; the isolation and harassment affecting their
own ability to thrive and enjoy.
In their attempts to support their children whose lives are so violently and irreparably damaged
parents also end up caring for their grandchildren; dealing with chaos emanating from the life of
their children; and tackling the after affects in their grandchildren.
“ ‘It’s my fault. It wouldn’t have happened if I told someone. It’s my fault Fiona’s
O h, sorrow upon sorrow. Fiona exploited and sold on the streets by a pimp and
then murdered by a violent punter and my fourteen-year-old daughter thinks it’s
her fault.” 9
THE TRUE COST TO FAMILIES OF CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION 9
CSE and Families: Cost of Disengaging
When agencies work to respond to child sexual exploitation, parents are often ignored, as
though they do not pay costs, or they only pay costs they themselves incurred by being bad
parents, or as though their costs do not count, and may be left to evaporate or at least to be
contained within the private fate of the parents who have had an unlucky family experience.
Becoming agents gives dignity, sense of worth and
purpose, which can be deeply supportive and transforma-
“ I went to the meetings with
tive. Parents who become agents are not super-agents. a lot of hope and then came
They do concentrate on a particular case with an intensity back really gutted”
and persistence which no social worker or policeman can
do, but they still come up against the limits of what they can do.
Parents feel blamed, unheard, devalued and disrespected. Only a fraction of parents that are
supported by CROP feel their role is being valued from the
“ beginning. Often a parent support worker has to advocate
It is not easy to see every for parents to be engaged in strategy meetings where
professional around the table decisions about their children are being made. Despite such
to have a file on you, your disfranchisement, parents often act as the clearing house for
child and your family. You feel sharing information with various agencies, helping them
understand what processes are underway; who is dealing
like a criminal to begin with.”
with what; and how the child is responding to those
CROP was founded and is led by parents, championing for the last 13 years the need for parents
and carers to be recognised as agents, they may be victimised and yet they continue to make a
significant investment in attempts of recovery and resistance. Sheffield and Blackburn Local
Authorities proactively involve parents and carers as a matter of policy and practice respectively.
CSE and the Cost to key Social Agencies
Children who are sexually exploited or at risk of exploitation figure in the statistics of those who
are truanting, excluded, referred to pupil referral units (PRUs); resulting in a significant cost to
the education system. Barnardo’s research highlighted that 75% of children abused through
sexual prostitution had been missing from school.10
• The average total cost to a parent of sending a child to school is £15,940;11
• The average extra cost of educating a permanently excluded pupil is £7,181 per year;12
• Every year over 10,000 children are excluded from school producing an annual cost of £650m
(£63,851 each) to society; 13
• There are the nearly 198,000 persistent truants in the UK costing on an average £44,468
leading to a total cost of £8.8bn per annum;14
• Educational welfare services cost £706 per truant per annum at 2005 prices;
• Per capita cost for a pupil with special educational needs in 2008-09 in England and Wales is
THE TRUE COST TO FAMILIES OF CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION 10
The first port of call for parents confronted with sexual grooming of their children is either the
police or social care. These agencies are entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding chil-
dren. A survey by the Department of Health indicates that 76% of all Area Child Protection Com-
mittees (ACPC) in England dealt with children involved in prostitution in their area.17 A subse-
quent report focusing on sexual exploitation in London estimated that only half of cases are
known to local authorities, and that 1,000 children in London alone are affected.18 A recent 2009
survey of the National Working Group identified 2424 children supported by various projects
across the country.19
• The cost of placing a child in a local authority secure children's’ home is £185,780 per year; 20
• Total mean costs of group therapy were found to be £1,949 and total mean costs of individual
therapy were found to be £3,195;21
• Indicative costs for professionals attending a Child Protection conference is £304 and £164 for
a child protection review meeting excluding the costs of attendance of children, parents and
• The median cost of social services for children looked after for a week is estimated at £273 as
opposed £55 to children supported in their families or independently. The highest cost for a
looked after child was £8,969, and £8,521 for child supported in the family or independently.23
Frequent going missing from home or care is one of the significant indicators of child sexual
exploitation. Parent/carer’s first contact with police in the context of sexual exploitation occurs
often with their children being reported missing. Around 90% of children subjected to sexual
grooming go missing at some time.24 An estimated 140,000 children and young people runaway
or go missing every year in the UK.25 Around 10,000 are hurt or harmed whilst away.26
• The social cost of policing runaway and missing children alone is £220 million a year.27
• The average cost of police investigation of a missing incident is £1000.28
• Cost of police activity per homicide is £ 107,299; serious wounding is £2357; other wounding is
£389; and common assault is £90.29
Criminal Justice System
CROP’s work shows that prosecution of crimes involving CSE are rare. Only a few result in
charges being made and a further few are tried. However, ineffective prevention and interven-
tion strategies can significantly add to the criminal justice costs.
• Cost incurred by the criminal justice system per homicide is £118,299; per incidence of serious
wounding is £9127 and sexual offence £3837 including policing costs;30
• The total cost of sexual offences to the criminal justice system is estimated at £498,810,000.
We cannot over-estimate the costs emanating from the health care consequences of CSE on
children and families to the health care system.
• The total cost of sexual violence each year is £25.7bn.32
• The Home Office has estimated that the economic and human cost of trafficking in 2003 was
£1bn for the UK.33
THE TRUE COST TO FAMILIES OF CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION 11
• One hospital episode without complications for multiple injuries is £2265 and £3831 with
complications; rape and assault by penetration costs to hospital and ambulance as £680 per
• Estimates put the cost of each rape at over £120,000, in emotional and physical impact, the cost
to the health service and the cost to the criminal justice service.35
CROP welcomes the 2009 Department for Children Schools and Families (DCSF) guidance on
Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation, which for the first time ac-
knowledged the impact on families and indicated the need to support families caught up in the
web of sexual exploitation. However, policies and guidance cannot make the needed difference.
We have to work relentlessly to improve practice.
Child sexual exploitation is not only a criminal issue; it is a safeguarding issue and a public health
issue. It pays to invest in early and targeted intervention. Our experience shows that multi-agency
teams with a skill mix working to build partnership with affected families are a way forward.
The role and agency of parents should be valued, acknowl-
edging and offering support to enable them to become equal
Don’t judge the book
partners. Social denial of the role of parents is reflected in the by the cover, open it
fact that hardly any services are available to support parents. and read a few pages
Parents have the welfare of children at heart and suffer before you decide…”
enormously from the effects of sexual exploitation on their
children. In a complete contrast there are often assumptions
that blame parents or children for what is happening to them, which appear to be based on the
ethical framework of children’s rights, best interests etc. It is time to bring these conflicting
considerations into public debate and restore the agency of parents.
Serious errors can occur if policy analysis ignores the intangibles when allocating resources.
Currently in the UK burglary and car crimes seems to take precedence over tackling child sexual
exploitation. No doubt these crimes should be dealt with. However, these economic crimes have
much less severe psychological effects on victims and relatively lesser cost to the Exchequer. It is
time we improve incidence and cost estimates including estimates of long term costs on
individual victim and their families to inform local needs assessments and to check local spending
Families cannot ignore the costs of CSE those confronting them from the actions of perpetrators
and from the lack of or limited action from social agencies. The damage done by sexual exploita-
tion cannot be repaired simply by catching and punishing the exploiter. People can see the perpe-
trators sentenced in court, and be glad about it, but be left still with broken lives, with costs to
How then do we account truly for these real costs? How are they brought out from their invisibil-
ity? And from their unmanageability? Or is the question rather, how do we support and accom-
pany those who pay these real costs? Or how do we protect our children from exploitation, from
its consequences and from living with its long term affects. The aim of this conference is to
explore ways of accounting some of these costs and promote some discussion of how they may
be carried and ameliorated.
THE TRUE COST TO FAMILIES OF CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION 12
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8. Willmer H (2005) Lost Teenage Leeds: CROP.
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