We published new research on Tuesday: Out of place: The policing and criminalisation of sexually exploited girls and young women, written by Professor Jo Phoenix, that revealed that many sexually exploited girls commit crime to try and escape the men who exploit them or as a cry for help, and called for local agencies to link together and develop new strategies to protect them.
Two months ago we wrote to the secretary of state, Kenneth Clarke, alerting him to the research and we received a reply in June from the direct communications office. We are publishing the reply today.
Firstly, we welcome the commitment to tackling exploitation and harm to children and the first part of letter goes into some detail about efforts being made to improve child protection.
I question the assertion of the Association of Chief Police Officers that the power to arrest a child who is being abused is a helpful tool. Arrest is not removal to a place of safety and it does not engage the child with support services.
The sting is in the tail when the letter switches bizarrely and starts calling children "suspects". The letter, and apparently the policy of the CPS and police, is that a child, perhaps as young as 10 years old, must be responsible for telling the police if they are being sexually exploited when they are arrested.
How could a 10 or 11-year-old girl be expected to tell the police that she went shoplifting as a cry for help or act of desperation to get food because she is living rough and last night she was raped by eight men? When we are dealing with child sexual abuse it is never, never up to the child to deal with it or take responsibility for revealing it and quite wrong that they could face punishment if they fail to reveal.
There is a real contradiction in the assumptions in the letter. The policies seem to say that a girl is a victim unless she does not co-operate in which case she becomes a suspect/offender. These girls have often had a lifetime of people bullying them and the official policy seems to be to compound this.
Towards the end of the letter there is confusion about sexual exploitation of children and prostitution. Let's be clear here, the Howard League research is about children, girls, who are being sexually abused and exploited, for gratification or for commercial reasons. Children being given money for sex does not change the fundamental criminality of the action and the child is not a prostitute - the child is being abused.