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It Is Time To Start Taking Child Abuse Victims Seriously

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As any parent will testify child safety is paramount.

Unfortunately we can't always protect our youngsters. Crime does happen and last year my charity Victim Support helped around 4,500 child victims of sexual abuse.

We should expect, however, that the British criminal justice system protects our young people if they become victims of any type of crime.

We know sexual abuse leaves emotional scars and can be traumatic for years and years after it happens. But we also know that there are ways we can limit the pain by ensuring the criminal justice system efficiently and effectively brings the offender to justice - without further harming the child.

That is why I am pleased the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer has recognised that the criminal justice system can be ineffective in its protection of young people and that major changes need to be made.

Child sexual abuse cases have been insensitively handled for far too long, with some child victims feeling they're being treated more like an offender than a victim. This perpetuates the idea that some child victims won't be believed and frightens them from coming forward in the first place.

The Rochdale sexual abuse scandal is one of the most recent high profile examples of this. Nine men were accused and convicted of grooming and abusing five young girls - some as young as 13. Shockingly, we learnt afterwards that the abuse could have been stopped much earlier.

Social services, police and other local agencies 'missed opportunities' to stop the abuse. What struck me most was the local Safeguarding Children Board's report into the case showed that some officials believed that vulnerable girls as young as 10 who were being groomed for sexual abuse, were 'making their own choices'.

The Rochdale case has taught us many lessons and one of the key ones is that young people should be listened to and taken seriously regardless of their behaviour, upbringing or anything else.

Victim Support's Witness Service spent over 200 hours helping the five victims get through the ordeal of the trial. But by then the damage was done and it was a matter of limiting it as much as we could.

The DPP's plan to re-assess the reliability and credibility tests for young and vulnerable victims is much needed and will help to address the issue of taking child victims seriously. There will be less focus on the victims' credibility and more on the suspect and their pattern of behaviour.

I am looking forward to commenting on the new draft proposals which will replace the 19 sets of current guidelines for investigating child sexual abuse. I will also be attending the DPP's roundtable meeting on prosecuting cases of child sex abuse later this month.

It will be interesting to see how the debate takes shape - and more importantly, what concrete actions will be put in motion.