Vulnerability and child sexual exploitation: Towards an approach grounded in life experiences

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As child sexual exploitation (CSE) has risen to the top of the UK’s political agenda, the concept of vulnerability has become a central frame through which to understand and address the issue. This article analyses problems with the concept of vulnerability as it is commonly understood in relation to CSE, taking first steps towards developing an empirically-grounded account of the notion which is more sensitive to the lived realities of victimhood for sexually exploited young people. Drawing on data from participatory qualitative research into life stories of ‘moving on’ from CSE in a large Northern city in England, the article illustrates how vulnerability is shaped through individual factors, situational dynamics and structural forces, connected by human agency through time. It argues that in order to respond effectively to vulnerability within the field of CSE, we need to move beyond discussion of ‘risk factors’ and denial of agency, towards an understanding of intersectional inequalities, social marginality, ‘critical moments’ and how these shape the investments and actions of vulnerable young people.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)622-642
Number of pages21
JournalCritical Social Policy
Issue number4
Early online date22 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019

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  • agency
  • grooming
  • responsibilisation
  • risk
  • vulnerable

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