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EIF report

Child sexual abuse and exploitation: Understanding risk and vulnerability

This review, looking at the risk indicators and protective factors for child sexual abuse and exploitation, aims to provide policy-makers and practitioners with an assessment of the best evidence for identifying and appraising risk indicators, based on a rapid evidence assessment and consideration of ten risk assessment tools currently in use in local areas. It was carried out by Coventry University on behalf of EIF, and funded by the Home Office.

Full report



Key findings

  • There is a lack of good quality research evidence on the risk and protective factors for becoming a victim or a perpetrator of child sexual abuse (CSA) or exploitation (CSE).
  • A small number of indicators of increased risk of becoming a perpetrator were found: being a victim of sexual abuse, being a victim of other forms of abuse and neglect, and having atypical sexual interests or fantasies. It is important to note that these indicators do not cause somebody to become a perpetrator.
  • Two strongly evidenced indicators of increased risk of becoming a victim were found: being disabled, and being in residential care.
  • A number of potential indicators of increased risk of becoming a victim were also found.  These included: alcohol and drug misuse, going missing, running away, and association with gangs/groups. However, the research evidence for these is currently weak.
  • The researchers did not find any evidence on the factors that might reduce the risk that a young person will become a perpetrator or victim of child sexual abuse or exploitation.
  • Risk assessment tools and checklists are therefore not based on a strong evidence base, and should be used to inform rather than determine professional decision-making.