Are we being complacent about our child sexual abuse and exploitation?
Fifteen years ago, most people didn’t realise the extent of child sexual abuse and exploitation, didn’t understand it could happen to anyone or anywhere and weren’t able to recognise the signs or didn’t know where to go for help. Specialist support through charities or local authorities or the police was largely non-existent. There wasn’t even a specific crime that referred to grooming – although rape and sexual assault were definitely crimes however convictions were still often low. Consent was misunderstood by the victims and those supporting the victims and those in authority alike. Prejudices about what a victim “should” look or sound like during police statements or in court were also common.
Thankfully things have changed for the better, with specialist units, charities, support service and regular awareness campaigns in schools, on social media etc. High profile cases have led to convictions. Nonetheless, there is a risk that we are being complacent. Although news headlines about grooming arrests and convictions are now common place although sadly the process is still often a painful process for victims whether about current or historical abuse, meaning victims may not continue throughout the trial, letting a perpetrator off the hook, free to commit similar crimes. If a victim has had previous negative experiences with the police, they may not come forward again. Many victims of abuse blame themselves – a negative conviction reinforces this message all over again – sometimes with serious, potentially life long physical and mental consequences for the victim and their family.
While there are some great pilots happening around the country that are making sure that the victim is supported in the best possible way throughout the process however the learning from these is not being shared widely across the country. High profile news headlines suggest “we” are now “on top of sexual abuse and exploitation”, know when and where its happening and are prosecuting perpetrators. While things certainly have improved significantly – there is a danger of becoming complacent. From our evidence as a charity in Leeds and N. Yorkshire and training nationally, we know that there is certainly NO room for complacency.
That’s why Adele Gladman and Basis Training have set up our Making Justice Work conference – to share both the challenges and pressures on victims of the process, from a victim’s and a professional’s perceptive and pilots around the country have been able to support victims better throughout. Other speakers will focus on how the use of intelligence data can improve and therefore place less pressure on the victim as a witness. We’ve managed go get a line-up of speakers with a wide range of expertise – we hope as many of you will join us in attending so we can really start making a difference to victims. If you are a police officer, a health or social work professional or work for a children’s charity – please have a look and sign up here!