‘Lottery’ for child abuse victims

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Published: Tuesday 28th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Sexually abused children face a “postcode lottery” in the way they are treated by police officers, according to a group of MPs and peers.

Young people who are exploited often come to the attention of the police under suspicion of having a committed a crime – but their status as victims can go unnoticed, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children (APPGC) found.

Child sexual abuse victims are often repeatedly quizzed by police officers for the same information, leading to fears they are not being believed, the APPGC said.

Following an 18-month inquiry into the relationship between police and children, the APPGC concluded there is a lack of trust in the police among many young people – with some children fearing officers.

Conservative MP Tim Loughton, one of the vice-chairs of APPGC, said: “This report is a real eye opener for the problems we still have in getting better relations and understanding between police and young people.

“At a time when headlines are dominated by young victims of child abuse being failed by police in places like Rotherham – where the abuse was not taken seriously, it is more essential than ever that we have a much better position of trust between the police and our young vulnerable citizens.

“That must be in everyone’s interest and whilst we found some examples of good practice, clearly more needs to be done to make good practice common place across the country.

“Our children and young people deserve nothing less.”

The report is published as police forces including South Yorkshire and Greater Manchester face greater scrutiny over their handling of sexual abuse cases in the wake of damning reports and claims that widespread exploitation of children was effectively ignored by police officers for years.

A 49-page report from the APPGC said children who have been trafficked or who have been victims of sexual exploitation commit crime to survive, such as stealing food or money when fleeing from abusers.

Offending can often be a key indicator of sexual exploitation, the group heard.

“However, when these children come to the attention of the police under suspicion of having committed an offence, their status as victims can go unnoticed,” the report said.

“Unfortunately, the inquiry heard that the police response to CSE (child sexual exploitation) and trafficking victims was a ‘postcode lottery’, leading to very different experiences and outcomes for children nationally.”

The report added that victims are often not told what will happen with the sensitive and personal information they provide to the police, which makes victims feel like they are not respected.

Baroness Massey of Darwen, Labour chair of the group, said: “We were concerned to learn that those children who have been trafficked or suffered sexual abuse experience a ‘postcode lottery’ when it comes to the treatment they receive from the police.

“This, coupled with recent reporting of failures by police forces and other services to take action to tackle child sexual exploitation across the country, demonstrates the need to build a stronger foundation for policing with the best interests of children and young people at its heart.”

The inquiry found positive examples of police forces listening to and engaging with children and young people, treating them as ‘children first’ in aspects of the police process, the report said.

The group heard that children often “profoundly distrust” the police and do not believe that they are there to protect them, with some young people often feeling humiliated by officers.

Presenting findings of a consultation with youth groups from across London, StopWatch, a campaign group, told the inquiry children often fear the police and as they grow older this turns into frustration, anger and a breakdown of trust.

Vulnerable children, such as those in care, can have negative early experiences of the police and do not always get the support and protection they need, the group said.

The additional needs of children with special educational needs, a language or communication difficulty, or mental health needs, can be overlooked or exacerbated in encounters with the police, the report added.

The APPGC recommended that every police force should have a designated senior officer of Association of Chief Police Officer (Acpo) rank who is responsible for procedures and practice with children and young people.

APPGs are informal, cross-party interest groups that have no official status within Parliament and are not accorded any powers or funding by it.

National policing lead for children and young people, Deputy Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney, said: “It is important to state that the police take very seriously their responsibilities in relation to children who interact with them, and figures released by the Office for National Statistics indicate that 90% of young people believe that the police will deal with them fairly.

“However, we must also acknowledge and address the findings that the APPGC have reached in what is a very detailed and balanced report which deserves equally detailed and balanced consideration.”

She added: ” There is a challenge to be faced by officers who, as enforcers of the law, will not always be popular when having to deal with young people, but officers are here to protect the vulnerable and young people are vulnerable due to their age. So it is important that they focus on ensuring that the needs of children are met.”

Published: Tuesday 28th October 2014 by The News Editor

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