Child sexual exploitation and internal trafficking devastates lives and shatters communities. These are the most pernicious of crimes. For so many years these atrocities have remained hidden, shrouded behind our misunderstanding of how such crimes are committed and the damaging control perpetrators exert over their victims.
These days, we have a far greater understanding of the nature of child sexual exploitation. Thanks to the work of organisations such as Barnardo's our knowledge of the nature and roots of this kind of abuse has increased exponentially.
However more needs to be done which is why, in partnership with Barnardo's, I am conducting a root and branch inquiry to shine a light on child sexual exploitation. We want to know if current legislation does enough to protect children and ensure their abusers face the full force of the law.
Last year we saw the awful impact of these terrible crimes laid bare in courtrooms across the country. Barnardo's works with more than a thousand victims every year and know the lasting psychological effect on young people can be profound. It is a sad truth that on occasion the process of seeking a prosecution for the crimes committed against them can be as traumatic to the child as the abuse itself.
At every stage of the justice system there is a need for change. New guidelines from the Crown Prosecution service and the Sentencing Council published last year rightly moved the emphasis from the victim to the perpetrator. However despite this progress there remains a great deal still to be done if we are to tackle these evil crimes.
Convictions rates for instances of child sexual exploitation and internal trafficking remain worrying low (in 2012 of 56 police investigations known to Barnardo's only 15 resulted in prosecutions and only 6 in convictions). The experiences of children who face their abusers in a court of law are still damaging.
As part of the inquiry we are hearing evidence from everyone involved in tackling child sexual exploitation and trafficking. Before Christmas we listened to the child victims of sexual exploitation. They told of the abuse they suffered, the trouble they had disclosing their experiences and how they were treated and supported by the authorities.
Now we are hearing what members of the legal profession have to say. Judges, barristers and solicitors work with existing legislation on a day to day basis. They play a vital role in not only bringing the perpetrators of these terrible crimes to justice but also protecting their victims from further harm.
It is essential that they have all the tools they need to effectively combat these offences. We want to know if the law could be changed to improve the way we deal with this crime and protect its victims.
It would be naïve to suggest that we can completely eradicate child sexual exploitation. Like any other crime it will continue to be committed while there remain individuals intent on committing it.
However what we can do is ensure that we put in place a legal framework that has the welfare of young victims at its heart. It is my hope that this inquiry will help to achieve this.