New funding for vulnerable victims after report finds boys and young men at risk


Sussex PCC Katy Bourne has announced up to £100,000 of new funding for support services after a report commissioned by her office found boys and young men risk being overlooked as potential victims of sexual exploitation.

A six-month study by the YMCA Downslink Group’s WiSE (What is Sexual Exploitation) Project has revealed a complex picture in Brighton and Hove and East Sussex with the wider public failing to realise boys may be at risk as well as girls.

The majority of people interviewed for the report considered girls to be more vulnerable than boys, acknowledging that sexual exploitation of boys and young men ‘must go on’ but it wasn’t something they had contemplated.

Almost half of boys and young men considered girls to be more vulnerable than they were while nearly three-quarters of parents said they were more likely to worry about a daughter being sexually exploited than a son. Boys were considered by many to be more likely to be seen as perpetrators rather than victims.

The research showed gaps in the knowledge of ways in which boys and young men could fall victim. For example, peer-on-peer exploitation, in which children and young people are sexually coerced by their peers, was vastly under-acknowledged: only one in five children and young people considered that ‘people the same age’ may sexually exploit boys, compared to 84% who identified that ‘strangers online’ may try and sexually exploit boys.

And it appears there may be a stigma associated with sexual exploitation of boys and young men - when exploitation did occur, according to WiSE’s study, parents felt “unable to turn to even close friends or family for support, fearing that those they confided in wouldn’t understand or would judge them; instead they tried to cope alone”, indicating that this would not have been the case if the victim was female.

WiSE's research builds upon a previous pilot of young persons’ violence advisors funded by the PCC which showed that young people don’t experience one type of abuse in isolation: what makes a young person vulnerable to domestic abuse often makes them vulnerable to sexual exploitation and other forms of sexual abuse.

Of the 100 13- to 17-year-olds referred to advisors in Sussex, a third had experienced domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, 30% had experienced two forms of abuse and 31% had experienced one form of abuse.

“Alarmingly, this research reveals abuse on our own doorstep with vulnerable young men falling through the gaps. This is why I will be making up to £100,000 available to build upon and improve existing specialist provision in Sussex ,” says Sussex PCC Katy Bourne.

“The report shows boys and young men risk being overlooked, particularly because awareness-raising campaigns tend to focus on girls as being victims. Parents, carers, peers and even some of the services working with vulnerable boys and young men might not have sufficient knowledge and understanding of child sexual exploitation which could be affecting them.”

She adds: “This report, along with the findings of the earlier pilot of young persons’ violence advisors, clearly shows that we need to think differently about our vulnerable children and young people.

“The new funding is about offering ongoing support to those and their families who need it most but who might not present a simple case for the agencies involved to deal with. We need to think differently about where we place our services if we are to prevent young men falling through the gaps.”

Data from Sussex Police showed that boys and young men made up a fifth of victims of child sexual exploitation in 2015 with boys more likely to be a victim of offline CSE at a younger age than girls.

Detective Superintendent Jason Tingley said Sussex Police welcomed the report, adding: “Although we cannot speak for other partners, including many statutory and voluntary agencies, all of whom do vital safeguarding work, we very much support the PCC’s plan to fund multiple abuse case workers to support boys and young men who are at risk or are actual victims of child exploitation. Extra professional resources to help an additional focus on child sexual exploitation will be welcomed.

“Our latest data across Sussex within the past year shows that there were 172 young people being supported by all agencies due to concerns about their vulnerability, in different ways, to sexual exploitation. Most of those were girls but we and all agencies are keenly aware that boys can also be vulnerable to either sexual or criminal exploitation and we take all such reports and intelligence very seriously.”

Another issue highlighted by the WiSE report was a lack of sufficient awareness-raising schemes: while two-thirds of boys aged 11-17 who responded online had had sexual exploitation explained to them at school, one in five reported they had never had it explained by anyone. One mother, asked if there was anything that might have prevented her son’s exploitation, explained: “They never did anything like that in school; they should make it a class, explain what grooming is.”

Only 20% of boys (and 26% of girls) said their parents had spoken to them about exploitation – though the overwhelming majority of parents (96%) surveyed said they had or would try to explain it.

Mark Cull, Head of Young People’s Services & Participation for YMCA DownsLink Group, said: “Our WiSE Project has been supporting victims of sexual exploitation since 2010 and throughout this time we have received very few referrals for boys and young men. We were keen to undertake this research to better understand why that is.

“As a result we have now appointed a male worker to work directly with young male victims and we will be launching our ‘WiSE Up to Boys’ campaign on 14 November to help raise awareness that boys and young men are victims of sexual exploitation and to help people understand how that happens. These were both recommendations in the report and we will continue to work with our partners, including schools and the police, to address the issues identified through our research.”

A series of short films aimed at raising awareness of sexual exploitation of boys and young men will be premiered by the YMCA at a preview event on 13 November. The clips, which depict different models of exploitation through a number of scenarios, will be available online from 14 November.


Case study:

• A 13-year-old boy with Autistic Spectrum Disorder joined an LGBT group on Facebook. He started receiving lots of Facebook messages and text messages because his profile was open and had his phone number on it. Some users sent him explicit pictures and asked for photos in return and sometimes he would reply. He began chatting with someone he believed to be 18 and thought he was in a relationship with him. He met him in a park and performed oral sex on him. The man had been planning a weekend away so they could have sex but in the meantime the boy's parents saw he had a lovebite and looked at his phone. He said he never told his parents about all the messages and about the man as he didn’t want to upset them and thought he would get in trouble. 

A family member contacted the police but the boy was frightened that he would be arrested - he said that he didn’t like the police because 'they always moved groups of young people on in town and were rude to them'. He found that the officers involved were 'actually really nice' and he gave a video testimony. The man, who was in fact 28 and who had been grooming other young men, was convicted for sexual offences and sentenced to custody.

However the boy still has mixed feelings about him because 'he was nice to him' and he didn’t feel he had been exploited 'as he had only given a blow job and was still a virgin'.

Notes for editors:

For more information, please contact Ellie Evans at the Sussex PCC’s office on 01273 337781 or email or contact Mark Cull at the YMCA on 01273 222565 or email

The six-month research and scoping study was undertaken by the WiSE Boys and Young Men’s Development Worker with the help of the YMCA Right Here Young Men’s Health Champions, a group of 16- to 25-year-old volunteers, and funded by the Office of the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner.

You can read the full report at

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