10/03/2013 20:29 GMT | Updated 10/05/2013 06:12 BST

Barnardo's Calls for Change to Sentencing Guidelines in Child Sexual Exploitation Cases

Child sexual exploitation is an appalling crime that devastates lives, and the legal system in this country has a crucial role in protecting children from such abuse by bringing the perpetrators to justice.

The legal process can also be important in helping victims of child sexual exploitation to recover from their ordeal and begin to look forward to a brighter future.

However, the brave children who seek justice for the abuse they have suffered have often not only to re-live the horrors of their experiences, but also to battle the perceptions that sometimes people have of them. These perceptions may mean they are not believed or perhaps they are left thinking that they are to blame for the horrifying abuse - that they in some way brought it upon themselves.

Take Lucy's story for example. During the court case Lucy was made to feel that the abuse she experienced was her fault because she looked older than 13 and if men thought she was above the age of consent then they weren't really to blame.

This is clearly not right and Barnardo's wants to change it. I am supporting them in their campaign to seek clearer guidelines to ensure in every case courts dealing with victims of sexual exploitation remember that they are children.

Regardless of how mature a child looks, how they behave or what kind of relationship has been established with the abuser, it must always be the case that victims of sexual exploitation are treated as children and never as willing participants.

And even once perpetrators of these crimes are convicted, it is also vital that any decisions on what sentence they are given must again reflect the fact that no child can ever truly agree to being sexually exploited.

For the victims of child sexual exploitation, recovery is a long and difficult journey. But if we can change the way these young people are perceived as they seek justice, then we help to protect them from further abuse and we can improve their chances of a better life, a life that doesn't have to end how it began.

Cherie Blair is Honorary Vice President of Barnardo's. To support the 'Remember they are children' campaign and sign the petition click here.