Broad perspective is needed on sexual violence and sexual exploitation
In order to protect victims of sexual violence against children and sexual exploitation as effectively as possible, we must look beyond the sexual violence and sexual exploitation alone. According to the report ‘Broad perspective on victimhood’ (Brede blik op slachtofferschap), victims of sexual violence against children and sexual exploitation are more likely to experience pre-existing problems and vulnerabilities. It is important that investigation and protection services take this context into account when identifying and providing support to victims.
Falling victim to sexual violence often has a major impact on victims’ lives. Much research focuses on the consequences of sexual violence. But in order to provide victims with the most appropriate form of support as quickly as possible, it is just as important that we have insight into the circumstances of their lives before they fell victim to sexual violence or sexual exploitation.
Characteristics and backgrounds are never the reason people are victimised. But they do affect how people experience sexual violence and sexual exploitation and how they can consequently best be protected against further abuse as well as supported in their recovery.
This research by the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence against Children describes personal and environmental factors of victims reported to the police and how they differ from persons in the general population of the same gender and age.
It appears that victims of sexual violence against children and sexual exploitation have different backgrounds compared to peers on many levels. For example, victims are more likely to have a mild learning disability and are more likely than their Dutch peers to have already received treatment in connection to substance misuse or mental health problems. In addition, they are more likely to have left school early and are more socio-economically vulnerable than similar individuals in the general population.
When it comes to the protection of victims, their circumstances, be it social, financial or emotional, can both help and hinder. It is therefore important to be aware of the context in which victims find themselves – independently of the sexual violence or sexual exploitation that they have experienced.
Providing aid and protection
So, if victims are to be offered the right protection and help with recovery, an understanding of their background situation and other potential issues is crucial. This goes for the type of support and aid that is provided for victims, for instance. Help with debts may be needed, or specific treatment for mental health problems or substance misuse. It may be important to be able to provide child protection and support services for the whole family, or, contrastingly, to bear in mind that a victim might not have a home situation that can provide a safety net or might even have a home situation that could hinder their recovery.
Ultimately, a victim benefits most from an approach that allows for own unique circumstances. However, this is only possible when professionals responsible for the protection of victims have the means and opportunities to be able to provide such a tailored approach.
Broader perspective is needed
The correlation between the background and vulnerabilities of victims and the sexual violence and sexual exploitation they experience is not straightforward and is often complex. It does not lend itself to stereotyping. Some victims struggle with multiple and complex problems, while for others the sexual violence or sexual exploitation is an isolated incident.
If victims are to be offered the right help and protection at the right time, it is important to understand how the different factors explored in this research play a role in the lives of victims. In order to tackle sexual violence against children and sexual exploitation effectively, we must therefore look beyond these forms of violence alone.