Young victims of violent and sexual crime are being made to feel like criminals, the government’s victims’ tsar has warned.
A review by Baroness Newlove found that despite cases such as the Jimmy Savile abuse scandal, children and teenagers are still often not believed when they report crime, or are accused of wasting police time.
“Every time I went into the interview room I felt like a criminal. I was like a test subject, a monkey in a cage to be prodded,” Hayley, a 17-year-old rape victim, told researchers.
“I came out worse than before it was reported.”
Researchers interviewed 12 young people between the ages of nine and 17 about their experiences of reporting crime.
The victim commissioner’s report, released on Wednesday, revealed that one of the young girls who had been raped was interviewed by male police officers on three different occasions, despite asking for a female officer each time.
“I was told no-one can come into the room for the full interview and there is no female officer,” the teen said.
“I was nervous and was fiddling with something and it was taken away from me. I felt like I was trapped in a padded cell.”
Another young victim Jenny, who was sexually abused, was told she could give evidence in court behind a screen so she wouldn’t have to face her abuser.
However, the offender was still in the court room and she saw him as she left.
“What’s the point of the screen when I still have to see him on my way out anyway?,” the 17-year-old asked.
Other interviewees said they felt as if they had to “prove themselves” when reporting crime, while some said they were frustrated with the lack of information they were given about how their case was progressing.
Some areas of good practice were also highlighted in the review, with researchers finding that “most” young victims had an adult with them when they were interviewed by police.
All of the participants who gave evidence at court also received a pre-trial visit, which they found “very useful”.
But Newlove said that more must be done to make sure that vulnerable victims are supported.
“These children and young victims feel let down by the system that is meant to protect them. It is time attitudes towards them were changed,” the commissioner said.
“I want to see agencies working together to make sure young and vulnerable victims feel supported through the criminal justice process.
“They deserve to be taken seriously, for their allegations to be thoroughly investigated and to be treated with dignity and respect,” she added.
Among other suggestions, Newlove said a child’s advocate should be appointed in cases involving young people.
But a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said despite welcoming today’s report, it was important to note that Newlove’s findings were based “on a very small sample of victim’s experiences of the criminal justice system”.
“We are putting children first at every stage of the justice system – removing the stress of appearing in court through pre-recorded evidence, and doubling the number of intermediaries to help children give evidence.”
The ministry is set to release its victims’ strategy by the end of the year.