Child sexual exploitation is a crime. Talking about it isn’t.

Picture: REIGN pioneers prepare to deliver workshops in London and the South East

The powerful message above perfectly summarises the unapologetic, fresh approach of the REIGN pioneers who recently delivered training sessions on child sexual exploitation (CSE) to participants on the Frontline programme across all of our regions. REIGN describe themselves as a survivor-led project that wants to end the silence around CSE. They offer first-hand knowledge on their experiences of CSE and some of the mistakes professionals can make. Within their workshops, they consider real life scenarios, showing how quickly CSE can happen and the number of different forms it can take. They look at the signs of CSE, explore ways to communicate with young people effectively and consider what support can make a difference, emphasizing that CSE doesn’t determine a person’s future.

Charlotte Lee (Frontline participant):
REIGN gave me pause for thought on a number of occasions, but I found their ‘Follow the Voices’ exercise particularly powerful. The exercise involved a number of volunteers leaving the room, while a case study of CSE was read aloud to the wider group. One volunteer (who was playing the role of the child who had experienced CSE) then had to recount their experiences to a volunteer (playing the role of the child’s friend) who had been waiting outside the room while the case study was presented. One by one, volunteers re-entered the room, each playing the role of various professionals (teacher, social worker, judge etc.) and, each time, the previous volunteer had to recount the story to the next person to enter the room. The exercise really brought home for me how important it will be in my own practice to protect children’s voices and to remember how distorted a story can become once it has been retold amongst various professionals.

REIGN with Frontline participants in the North East

Jo Williams (Practice Tutor):
As a tutor on the Frontline programme, there are always limitations as to how we can convey knowledge and insight into such important and sensitive issues as child abuse if we only focus on theory, research, policy and our own professional experiences. Working alongside experts by experience enriches our teaching, breaking beyond our limitations and getting to the heart of real life experiences and stories. As a social worker, the messages from REIGN lead me to reflect with emotion on my practice and previous occasions where I could perhaps have understood young people’s circumstances differently with the knowledge I have today. Working in partnership with REIGN was a privilege and enabled us to tackle stereotypes and assumptions about those affected by CSE, as well as hear messages of hope and the reclaiming of power, for vulnerable children and young people.

It is vitally important that we talk about and raise awareness of CSE. The REIGN pioneers delivered difficult content about their own experiences with confidence, honesty, and yes, even with humour. In doing so, they struck the perfect balance between challenging us as professionals in training and providing a safe space for us to talk and ask questions. Hearing from experts by experience has been the most valuable part of my learning on Frontline so far.