In the Media

Judges told to protect victims in abuse cases

PUBLISHED November 22, 2011

A leaked report into child sexual exploitation will tell judges that they should change the way that vulnerable victims give evidence in court in an attempt to ensure more abusers and rapists are convicted.

Proposals to ease the ordeal faced by teenage victims of abuse when they testify will be outlined tomorrow in a government action plan that has been seen by The Times.

In one trial this year involving multiple defendants, a teenager alleged to have been the victim of several child-sexual offences spent weeks in the witness box under cross-examination by a succession of defence barristers who repeatedly accused her of lying. She eventually broke down in tears.

The moves to prevent similar situations would involve restricting the cross-examination of victims in cases where there is more than one defendant in the dock, and could allow children and young people to give much more evidence via a video recording or link, rather than in person.

The proposals are among 46 measures outlined in the Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation action plan, which will be published by the Department for Education.

The report is a response to an inquiry that began after The Timesrevealed a pattern of young teenagers being groomed, abused and sold for sex. Yesterday we reported six instances where police and local authorities in West Yorkshire failed to act while girls were targeted and subjected to degrading abuse.

Most of the cases follow a pattern of collective crimes, witnessed for at least 20 years in northern England. Groups of men, many of them British Pakistanis, flirt with vulnerable girls from the age of 12.

In a foreword to the plan, Tim Loughton, the Children?s Minister, writes: ?It is clear that this abuse can be perpetrated by individuals from all sections of society, and can be targeted at boys, girls, older and younger children, from stable and affluent homes as well as from less advantaged backgrounds, in urban and rural communities.

?It is a serious crime and must be treated as such, with the perpetrators pursued more rigorously.?

Mr Loughton admits that existing guidance to protect children is not being implemented effectively by local safeguarding children?s boards, whose job it is to protect children from significant harm.

The action plan is designed to address all levels of child sexual exploitation, defined as any situation where children or young people receive something, such as accommodation, drugs, gifts or affection, as a result of their performing sexual favours.

The Times?s investigations have exposed a world in which cars, drugs and alcohol are the doorway to a criminal sub-culture that seeks to alienate children from family and friends. Young teenagers may think they are in love but as their dependence grows they are often passed to other men to be abused in cars, parks, cheap hotels and empty, ?chill pad? properties. Some girls have been driven to different parts of the country for sex.

Parties are held at which children are shared by the men among friends and older relatives. Sometimes, but not always, money changes hands. Two young Pakistanis in South Yorkshire recently spoke of some girls ?going for £10?, adding: ?The younger the girl, it?s easy to take advantage ?cos when they?re 18, 19, they don?t really fall for little things like that. If she?s a virgin they get the pleasure of taking her virginity. You see the girls walk around in bloody miniskirts . . . they just ask for it.?