Lloyd, Sarah W. (2016) Social workers' understandings of child sexual exploitation and sexually exploited girls. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

In recent year’s child sexual exploitation has received significant attention in the UK
politically, publically, and in the media. In particular, high profile cases involving groups of
men and adolescent girls have resulted in criticism directed towards safeguarding services.
Of specific concern is whether sexually exploited young people have been safeguarded, as
they should have been. If they have not been, is this because safeguarding professionals
understand young people to be ‘making a choice’ to be in sexually exploitative situations
and therefore they are ‘left to it’. Thus, this doctoral research considers how social workers
understand CSE, with a focus on the social workers’ understandings of sexually exploited
girls as choice-makers and agents. Eighteen social workers, from three local authorities,
within one region in England were interviewed. The interviewees work in all areas of
safeguarding. To further elicit the social workers’ understandings of sexually exploited girls,
the interviewees’ understandings of girls sexually abused in the home were also explored.
How girls' choice-making and agency are understood and responded to, depending on
where, and by whom they have been abused/exploited, is explored. The methodology is
qualitative and adopts a social constructionist, feminist approach utilising thematic analysis.
The social workers understand that CSE happens to a certain ‘type’ of girl: one who is likely
to be socially and economically deprived; that is why the social workers understand she is
vulnerable to CSE. The interviewees have complex understandings regarding who is to
blame for CSE and the lack of overt blame placed on the perpetrators, alongside significant
culpability placed on the girls, is striking. Moreover, the confluence of choice-making and
blame within the interviewees’ epistemological framework concerning CSE and sexually
exploited girls is of specific note. The social workers ‘wrestle’ with their understandings of
sexually exploited girls as choice-makers, this is because they associate choice with blame
and this leaves them conflicted. The way in which they resolve this conflict is to invalidate
certain choices that girls make which they understand ‘result’ in her being exploited, in
order not to blame her. The research concludes that social workers need to separate out
choice-making from blame and recognise that sexually exploited girls make choices, within
a context but that they should never be blamed for making those choices. Furthermore,
their agency needs to be encouraged and enabled in positive directions and blame should
always and unequivocally be placed on the perpetrators.

Final thesis - LLOYD.PDF - Accepted Version
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