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BLOG: DPP to be congratulated for recognition that justice system is failing sexual abuse victims

Following the failings identified by the Jimmy Savile case and the exploitation of young girls by gangs, the director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer QC has called for a new approach to tackle child sexual exploitation prosecutions, so that claims are taken seriously and cases are not dropped at an early stage. Mr Starmer has been quoted as saying police and Crown lawyers need to change the way they deal with cases of alleged sex abuse to avoid “another Savile moment.”

BASW professional officer Sue Kent, who will be attending a roundtable meeting with the DPP to discuss proposed reforms, writes: “At last there is high level recognition that the current legal system is not helping victims of sexual abuse to cope with their ordeal, particularly when offenders are escaping prosecution because of our 'one size fits all' system of justice. 
“That said, we find it sad that this review into investigation and prosecution processes may only be taking place due to the celebrity status of a repeat sex offender such as Jimmy Savile, when abuse of this nature is taking place all over the country and often victims’ testimony is being ignored.”
“Social workers will welcome changes to a system which can often add to the abuse children and young people have already suffered at the hands of their sex offenders. 
“As our knowledge and awareness of the complexities of child sexual abuse grow particularly in light of recent high profile cases of child sexual exploitation, we remain dismayed by the low conviction rates, which are greatly outnumbered by the rate of abuse claims made by children and young people.
“It is only relatively recently and through extremely complex multiple-agency work that we have seen groups of men face trial and receive custodial sentences for the horrific sexual abuse of children.
“Social workers often report that despite working hard to build trust and relationships to support children and young people to disclose the sexual abuse they have suffered, victims are often not believed or placed in court situations which can be abusive.
“There needs to be more ethical consideration of forcing young people who have been courageous enough to reveal sexual abuse to face repeated cross examination in court. The suggestion made in the proposed review of addressing the suspects in more detail rather than initially focusing on whether a young person is lying or not is positive. We need to ask ourselves why do we not want to believe children when they describe such horrific abuse and why do we put them through more pain in our courts.
“Members of BASW’s Practice Group on Child Sexual Exploitation have expressed a number of difficulties within the present system. These range from police during investigations into sexual exploitation taking a child’s word for it when they claim to be older than they are, to not being able to tell victims that others have disclosed abuse by the same person or group. This legal imperative can make victims feel isolated and scared and lead them to retract their statements. 
“Alarmingly, members have described a perception amongst social workers that perpetrators of child sexual abuse have become more aware of the legal process and more skilled in avoiding prosecution.
“We believe that skilled social workers given the time to build relationships with victims of child sexual abuse will help support the child or young person through the judicial process. 
“BASW is pleased to be invited to contribute to the policy review and are optimistic that the design and implementation of new guidance for the investigation and prosecution of child sexual abuse cases will lead to more children being safe."