There was an interesting discussion this morning on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. Baroness Butler Sloss, a former High Court Judge who used to head up the family courts, was interviewed about the implications of the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse case. She was rather pessimistic about whether attitudes had fundamentally changed and she was critical of some police officers and other public officials who, she thought, still see some children and young people as wrong doers rather than as victims.
Peter Davies, lead for child protection for the Association
of Chief Police Officers and Chief Executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, was also interviewed. He was more optimistic, claiming that police attitudes
I think the law also needs to change. Young people under 16
can still be arrested for prostitution offences. The Sexual Offences Act 2003
criminalises young people under 16 who engage in sexual acts as well as adults
who may exploit them. No wonder that some sexually exploited young people are
reluctant to turn to the police for help.
Both speakers stressed the need for people to bring concerns
about sexual abuse to the attention of the authorities. Interestingly, I
thought neither looked at the issue from the child’s perspective. It seems to
me that a crucial issue is how we can make it easier and safer for children and
young people to report abuse.
Research shows that many sexually abused children only
discuss the abuse with family and friends and do not report it to social
workers or the police. Not surprisingly they are fearful of the consequences of
So the issue is how do we reduce that fear. In addition to
ensuring that the law does not criminalise victims, we need to begin by very
careful thinking about the experience of a child or young person making a
disclosure. Where does disclosure happen, who hears the disclosure, how does that
person behave towards the child, how safe does the child feel?
The story that
the Today programme interviewer put
to Peter Davies is salutatory. Apparently in a recording of a police officer
interviewing a girl, who was one of the victims of sexual exploitation in
Rochdale, the officer can be heard loudly yawning as the young person details
what happened to her.