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Children: Sexual Abuse

Volume 748: debated on Tuesday 15 October 2013

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to prevent child sex abuse, and what support they are giving to organisations involved in preventing such abuse.

My Lords, research suggests that at least one in 20 young adults in the UK experienced sexual abuse as a child, but most incidents are not reported to the police. Three-quarters of children who are abused do not tell anyone about it at the time, as has been so graphically illustrated by the Jimmy Savile scandal. Services for children and telephone helplines are a key part of the child protection framework, but it is for the Government to set that framework and to ensure that local authorities, working through their safeguarding programmes, together with the voluntary sector, carry this forward.

I therefore welcome the consultancy group established by Damian Green in the other place and I ask the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, to ensure that this debate is brought to his attention and to that of the chair of the group. My own assessment is that primary prevention remains a weak link in the plans, with emphasis on secondary and tertiary prevention. That means that we need more emphasis on ensuring that every effort is made to stop it before it happens—in the words of the campaign, “Stop it now”. In addition, there appears to be a gap in the work of the group relating to young people and children who abuse other children. Only if these two areas are placed at the centre of the work of the Home Office group will it come anywhere near its mission of:

“Reducing the vulnerability of victims”.

With this issue having such a high profile, I am indeed grateful to be given the opportunity for this debate, although in 10 minutes I can but scratch the surface. Good intervention will make all the difference to thousands of children, for the numbers, despite the progress that we have made, remain disturbing.

A recent NSPCC report looking at the disclosure of childhood abuse shows that one in 20 children being abused equates, in 2012-13, to 18,195 sexual crimes against children under l6 being recorded in England and Wales. It also says that, despite the recent high-profile celebrity cases, 90% of children are being abused by someone they know. This often happens in their own home, and that is something that we should not lose sight of. Around one-third of offences are perpetrated by other children and young people, as I have just mentioned.

The present system still leaves too much responsibility on the child victim when ultimately it is for adults to protect children from abuse. One of those adults who made a step change was Lucy Faithfull, and I declare an interest as a vice-chair of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation. As a Conservative Peer of some standing, she caused consternation to her Whips by leading mini-revolts on children’s issues. She was committed to her party but she was just more committed to children. As a children’s officer, she understood the issues around child sexual abuse well before many of her colleagues. Therefore, when asked to help the Gracewell Clinic, which later became the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, she took it to her heart. She deserves that the present Government support her legacy.

This year is the 20th anniversary of the foundation but the work has not been without its difficulties. Despite the skilled staff leading in the field of understanding the treatment of abusers and the highly successful clinic at Epsom, it was closed when the hospital was redeveloped. The then Government promised to fund an alternative site—indeed, to develop a range of similar facilities based on the knowledge and success of the clinic, but they never materialised. I am afraid that we had placards outside some of the facilities held by children saying, “Not on our doorstep”. One understands this, but during our whole time at Epsom we never had one incident when a man stepped outside the boundaries that he had been set in his programme. I wonder how much further we might be in the work had the clinic continued, and I ask the Minister what plans the Government have to give community residential programmes to men discharged from prison at a time when these men are most vulnerable to reoffending.

Before I move on, I acknowledge and commend the work of Circles of Support, a scheme developed by the Quakers, where volunteers provide a safe place for men who have offended and returned home. Most people shun these men for what they have done, which is understandable. It takes a very special volunteer to befriend them, but in doing so they are an essential part of protecting children, as well as giving these men new hope. We have to remember that whatever they have done they have to continue their lives, and unless they are helped they remain a danger to children.

When I collaborated with Lucy in the days before the foundation, I was chief executive of ChildLine. It was even more difficult then than now for children to be listened to and believed, and I congratulate all who have worked to shorten the time before children come forward. The changes in court procedures and safeguarding programmes have helped but there remains room for improvement. What work continues to ensure that courts are child-friendly while still quite properly ensuring a fair hearing for the defendant? We still hear of children being intimidated in court even when they are placed behind screens, and there should be more room for them to have advocates.

During the collaboration between ChildLine and the Lucy Faithfull Foundation in the early 2000s, it became apparent that there was a need for a helpline to give advice to adults concerned about their own thoughts and feelings towards children. ChildLine volunteers were trained to focus on children, so in 2003 the Stop it Now! confidential freephone service was launched by the foundation. It has grown from taking 1,000 calls in 2003 to just under 6,000 calls in 2012. The demand has grown despite limited publicity and no advertising. Calls are taken from adult abusers and those at risk of abusing. Time does not allow me to give too many examples, but they tell the story. The group for whom there is most concern if they fail to get help consists of abusers and those at risk of abuse. Paul, a window cleaner, was having sexual thoughts about children. He went to the police for help, but was told they could deal with him only if he committed an offence. They suggested that he talk to the probation service, which said that it could offer treatment only if he had been convicted of an offence, so he went to his GP who told him that everyone had these thoughts occasionally. Finally, he found the helpline and received advice on how to manage these thoughts and the terrible things that he felt tempted to do. Other groups calling for help include parents and young men accessing indecent images of children online.

Core funding for the helpline comes from a grant from the Ministry of Justice without which the service could not continue, so the foundation would like to acknowledge the wisdom of this support in difficult times. It is topped up by donations. Your Lordships can understand how difficult it is to raise money to help in this area, and demand has grown to a level which cannot be met. The helpline takes an average of 550 calls a month from 300 callers but has between 1,500 and 2,000 missed calls—missed opportunities to intervene in possible abuse. The work undertaken via a callback service that can provide vital face-to-face meetings is no longer funded, and men can receive that only if they are prepared to pay for it themselves.

We are of course all familiar with recent developments on the internet and the strong political drive to make the internet safer for children and to reduce the occurrence of online offending involving viewing, downloading, making and/or distributing indecent images of children. I recognise the outstanding work of the Internet Watch Foundation. No doubt this is a topic other noble Lords will cover as it needs more time, but I hope that the Government will continue to press the internet industry to play its part.

Parents and carers use the line. They are often ill equipped to prevent child sexual abuse of their own children. Research conducted as part of the work of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation with these groups showed that 59% of those questioned were not as confident as they would like to be when it came to protecting their own children. With 7.7 million families in the UK having dependent children, this could mean that 4.5 million families are lacking this confidence. Yet the foundation’s hugely successful Parents Plus programme, part of the Stop it Now! campaign ceased. Not only the groups but other parts of the programme will be closed down. Stop it Now! is fully supported by the Governments in Scotland and Wales but sadly not in England. I wonder whether the Minister can explain why the Government have removed their commitment to this programme.

Children also need the tools to protect themselves, and as part of this have the right to high quality sex and relationship education. The ChildLine Schools Service is an example of how one charity is trying to protect children from abuse by using preventive education in schools, and I am sure that the Minister is aware of the wide support given by professionals to the Daily Telegraph’s call to update the sex and relationship guidance to schools. Does the Department of Education have plans to update this guidance? What steps are being taken to complete the task?

I have spent a lifetime in this work and know that we could do more, and do it smarter, to prevent the continuing terrible scourge of child sexual abuse. Of course, the work is multifaceted and we should remind ourselves that some abusers are so dangerous that they must never return to the community. My experience has not made me soft but, like Lucy Faithfull, I know that the problem has to be dealt with at every level. I hope that the Government will listen to those calling for a public health model of prevention. This means deterrence, treatment and taking steps to prevent abuse ever taking place through community awareness and education programmes. The impact on victims is long-term and devastating. It costs money in repercussions on the mental health and penal services. We can and should do more to prevent it ever happening to any child in our society.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, for initiating this debate, and I regret that in five minutes it is not possible to cover many of the points that I would like to make. I shall concentrate particularly on local government activity in this field.

In the Bradford district, where I declare an interest as an elected member of the council, the Leeds strategic body for the development and implementation of the district’s response to CSE is the Bradford Safeguarding Children Board. The BSC board is required to ensure that the needs of children and young people who have been or may be sexually exploited, and their families, are considered as it plans and commissions services, develops policies and procedures, ensures that appropriate training is in place, communicates and raises awareness and monitors and evaluates the work that is being done. BSCB and individual agencies, working with children and families, are continuously developing procedures, guidance and information about resources for preventive work and direct work to support children and families during and after victimisation through CSE. Social workers and all agencies recognise that CSE is a dynamic and changing phenomenon. All those involved need to be vigilant in response and there is a need to learn from emerging evidence. Data and research need to be utilised to inform the response to CSE.

Bradford has a seven-point plan of response. First, the safeguarding children’s board has a multiagency location team, and there is now considerable evidence that search co-location is effective in securing evidence to prosecute offenders. Secondly, a bespoke training plan for schools exists, enabling teachers to be able to recognise the signs of grooming and, crucially, to have absolute clarity in relation to the referral pathways. Thirdly, there is a plan for all faith and community leaders to support communities through the damage that is caused by CSE. There is considerable potential for damage to community relations when research data show disproportionate numbers of perpetrators from specific communities.

Fourthly, there is a supportive network focusing on women and mothers, so that they understand the signs of both perpetrators and victims of CSE. Fifthly, specific work is aimed at boys between the ages of 14 and 17 to tackle the unacceptable attitudes regarding the sexual abuse of any person. A specific product for the Pakistani-origin community exists, which addresses child sexual exploitation and the harm that it has on individuals and communities. Seventhly, it is looking at reducing opportunities for perpetrators to abuse children and young people in hotels and bed and breakfast, licensed and commercial premises. A local campaign has commenced to raise awareness among hoteliers and landlords about the misuse of relevant premises.

I am the chairman of a charity, Near Neighbours, which works to develop a deepening association between people of different cultures and faiths. There is a need for re-neighbouring neighbourhoods if communities are to have a culture of vigilance to the dangers of abuse. The example this week of a young eastern European woman sold as a sex slave in West Yorkshire shows us that we have a very long way to go.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, for providing this opportunity to debate such an important issue. In the short time available, I would like to concentrate on the issue of child trafficking. Most of the children trafficked into, within and from the UK are trafficked for the purpose of abuse. The UK Human Trafficking Centre’s annual assessment identified more than 2,000 potential victims of human trafficking in 2012. Of these, 549 were children—a 12% increase from 2011. Some 152 children were believed to have been trafficked solely for sexual exploitation. The other 397 children were trafficked for criminal exploitation, such as benefit fraud and cannabis cultivation. They may also have been victims of sexual abuse, a tactic often used to control victims. These figures represent only the tip of the iceberg. The true scale of the problem is not recognised because many front-line practitioners do not understand the concept of trafficking and do not identify children who are showing signs of being trafficked. Unless and until these professionals and their managers receive the necessary training, trafficked children will continue to go under the radar and be put at risk of significant harm.

One of the great success stories in the battle against trafficking was Operation Paladin Child at Heathrow Airport, which did some superb work. Despite this, though, it was merged in 2010 with the Child Protection Unit. The Child Protection Unit has now been merged into the Met’s rape command, and the Paladin team now operates only part-time. These mergers risk a loss of focus and, more importantly, a loss of specialist skills. We need clear assurances that protective measures are not being weakened.

We should welcome the Director of Public Prosecution’s guidelines for prosecutors on how to tackle cases involving child sexual abuse. They are intended to improve the criminal justice system process for children, both as witnesses and as victims. However, this guidance should be extended to cover all forms of exploitation, including all child victims of trafficking.

The report from the Refugee Council and the Children’s Society, Still at Risk, presents a sober analysis of what has gone wrong. What stands out is the failure of professionals to act on indicators of abuse when the child has no documentation to prove their age, leading many children to be pushed into the adult immigration system without protection. Giving children the benefit of the doubt, an obligation already embedded in various conventions and directives, could so easily rectify this. I would be grateful if the Minister could let the House know if and how the Government are planning to implement the report’s recommendations.

It might surprise some Peers and members of the public that at present there is no specific offence of child trafficking in law. Instead, it is an aggravating factor in various pieces of legislation that apply to adults and children. This is just not good enough. The Government should therefore consider including separate child-specific offences before introducing the forthcoming modern slavery Bill.

Tackling the problem of child trafficking will not create huge costs. It is mostly about raising awareness and using existing resources and powers more effectively. The present approach clearly is not working, and there is neither a moral or financial case for leaving things as they are.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, on securing this important debate. One of the challenges presented by the horror of child sex abuse pertains to the way in which it is growing, not just in its extent but also in its definition. There was a time when one thought of child sex abuse narrowly in terms of physical acts committed by an adult in relation to a child. While child sex abuse of that kind continues, it is also manifest in other ways, and in the brief time available to me this evening I will look at the public policy challenge of how best to address these more novel forms of child sex abuse.

New means of communication, principally the internet and mobile phones, play a key role. In recent years children and young people have started to use their mobile phones to take pictures of themselves or others naked and then to text those images to others or distribute them through new social media. This practice, called “sexting”, is hugely damaging. One can gain some appreciation of the problem by examining the Children’s Commissioner’s recent literature review on the subject, Basically... porn is everywhere, which is a deeply disturbing document.

Among other things, the report highlights studies demonstrating that between 4% and 17% of young people have sent or received “sexts” or have posted self-generated images online. I have references to them in my notes. Crucially, the report makes it very plain that such images can be taken and/or disseminated as part of bullying, or their discovery may lead to bullying. This may also lead to threats or blackmail, or may be posted to or shared by paedophile chat sites. Also, according to one of my sources, Wolf, online distribution of material generated via sexting has the potential to lead to self-harm and/or suicide.

Just because sexting and associated cyberbullying do not necessarily involve physical contact and may be committed by children on children as well as by adults on children, it does not follow that these practices, when they involve people under 18, are anything other than a new form of child sex abuse. If we are to have an adequate public policy response to child sex abuse, we must engage with sexting and associated cyberbullying. The truth is that these behavioral abuses of the otherwise wonderful potential that the internet has to offer can only be addressed through challenging and educating.

This is one of the two central provisions of my Online Safety Bill which is currently awaiting its Second Reading in your Lordships’ House. Clause 4 places an obligation on internet service providers and mobile phone operators to make customers aware of internet and mobile safety issues, which include the online behavioural challenges of sexting and cyberbullying. Clause 5, meanwhile, places an obligation on the Secretary of State to provide parents with education materials about online safety, including sexting and cyberbullying, to help them speak to and teach their children about such challenges. I would like to know what the Government plan to do to help parents engaging with this key educational challenge, and I hope that the Minister will enlighten us when he replies.

We then turn to another crucial issue: to what extent are we prepared to do what we can to help ensure that children do not stumble on legal but entirely inappropriate adult sexual content online? Knowing what we do about the development of the brains of children with respect to sexual images, I firmly believe that there is a real sense in which a culture that chooses not to invest appropriate resources on preventing children from accessing such material is itself guilty of a form of child sex abuse. While we may not yet have the public policy tools to provide complete safety for children online, I believe that at any given time we should do everything that it is technologically possible to do to protect children from stumbling upon such images.

If we pass on this opportunity, we ourselves are guilty of allowing a form of abuse. That is why Clause 1 of my Bill requires internet service providers and mobile phone operators to provide service users with an internet service that is free from inappropriate adult sexual and violent content at the point of purchase but with the option for anyone to access such material, subject to their opting in and going through a verification process demonstrating that they are 18 or over.

I warmly congratulate the Prime Minister on taking on this issue and, in particular, on his 22 July NSPCC speech in which he addressed both the availability of illegal child sex abuse images online and the current ease with which children can access legal but inappropriate adult content online. He has shown real leadership on the issue and for this I thank him. However, I gently suggest that his phrase, “Nothing is more important than this”, with which I completely agree, sits rather oddly alongside his refusal to introduce legislation in deference to the industry's desire for self-regulation. Self-regulation may sound very fine but it is worth remembering that it was tried before when seeking to engage with the great child rights challenges of the past. In 1847 any aspiration for self-regulation of the factories had to be abandoned in favour of a statute, and no one questions the wisdom of that now. I suspect that we will come, sooner or later, to the realisation that we require legislation—

I am just finishing. We will come to the realisation that we require legislation to address the problems that I have outlined and that in the future those looking back would be incredulous that we ever dared think otherwise.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, on securing this debate and on her effective introduction to it.

To understand debates about child sex abuse now we absolutely have to have some historical context. I started working on this issue some 30 or so years ago now. That was a time of denial, both here and in the United States, let alone elsewhere. Cases of widespread abuse were coming to light in churches, in orphanages, in hospitals and in the family, but a veritable smokescreen was thrown up to try to block off the implications of all this. For example, people spoke of false memory syndrome, casting doubt on the testimony of many children who did at that time speak up. In a way, that is not surprising because we are dealing here with some of the most cherished institutions in our society. A substantial proportion of the cases of sexual abuse that came to light were against small boys. It is important to recognise this and not concentrate only on sexual abuse against girls.

I used to teach at the University of California at Santa Barbara—one of the most beautiful towns you could possibly live in. The jewel in the crown in Santa Barbara was the mission, which stood on the hill above the town—a really wonderful building. In that building, it was discovered that there was a long-term history of sexual abuse on a mass scale. A local newspaper referred to those involved, who were priests and friars in the institution, as sacred monsters. Over the period 1964 to 1987, fully one-quarter of the friars regularly abused the boys in the institution.

Noble Lords may have seen in the papers a couple of days ago that high-profile cases are even now coming to the fore in the Catholic Church in Poland involving some very high-ranking dignitaries. What we are talking about here is, as it were, the secret sexual history of our civilisation. We are talking about something deep-rooted, not a transient phenomenon; it has a very long history. The term “grooming”, for example, has been widely used recently. It is a fairly novel term, but I can assure noble Lords that it is a term for a very traditional practice. Grooming went on at the mission in Santa Barbara as in so many other institutions. Many questions are raised, therefore, by what has been called our Jimmy Savile moment. In some part, it is our moment of institutional discovery and the consequences will take a long time to assimilate.

I have three brief points on which I would like the Minister, if he has time, to comment. First, I hope the Government will accept that we are in this for the long haul; that we are at the beginning of a process that will go on for a long time. Operation Yewtree, after all, found 450 people who came forward to speak out. None of them had spoken out before. This is part of a much larger hidden history; it is not an individual case in any way at all. Therefore, a long-term strategy is needed.

Secondly, would the Minister agree that we need to focus on boys as much as girls? Boys on the whole are much more reluctant than girls to speak up, for well known reasons. Jimmy Savile’s victims included quite a number of boys under the age of 10, so it will not do to concentrate only on one sex when discussing this issue.

Thirdly, we need to hammer home the point made by Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, that this is not just a problem for the CPS and the police. That is precisely because it is essentially an institutional problem—an issue, in other words, for all of those in charge of the diversity of organisations within which such practices have been carried on.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, for facilitating this debate. I think the figures are frightening; let me remind you of them. One in 10 children experience sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. Youth are the victims of 66% of all sexual offences reported to law enforcement agencies; they are two-and-a-half times more likely to be raped than adults. Forty per cent of victims are 11 years old or younger and 9% of 10 to 17 year-olds receive a sexual request while on the internet. Of course, sexually abused children are at greater risk of psychological, emotional, social and physical problems, often lasting into adulthood.

What are the steps that we should take? First of all, there are some simple thoughts that we should always have in our minds. We should eliminate or reduce isolated one-to-one situations in order to decrease risk. More than 80% of cases happen in isolated one-to-one situations. We should be prepared to have open conversations with children about our bodies, sex and boundaries. The best protection is our relationship with children and that is why sex education in schools is so important. We should know the signs of abuse to protect children from harm and understand how to respond to risky behaviours and suspicions or reports of abuse.

The greatest risk to children comes not from strangers but from people we know and trust. Ninety per cent of children know their abuser; 60% are people whom the family trusts; 40% are abused by older or larger youths—that is, babysitters or cousins.

In May 2012, I asked a Question about the definition of neglect of children and young persons. I just reminded myself of the reply that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools at the time, the noble Lord, Lord Hill, gave me:

“The Government's vision is for a child-centred system that includes providing effective help when a problem arises at any stage in a child’s life. This is one reason why we asked Professor Munro to carry out an independent review of child protection. She identified that services are often too reactive, and we are now helping children’s services, the police and the NHS to work together and focus on early identification before problems escalate”.—[Official Report, 23/5/12; col. WA 59.]

I am very tempted to say: tell that to, or consider it for, poor Daniel Pelka. As we remember, Daniel Pelka was starved to death and beaten for months by his serial criminal stepfather and drug addict prostitute mother—mind-bogglingly, beyond the help of onlooking teachers, health staff and social workers. There are the ghosts of Victoria Climbié and baby Peter, two other lovely kids who should be alive today. There was a boy resembling a concentration camp victim scavenging in bins and reduced to finding scraps to survive. There was another inquiry, another set of recommendations and then, sadly, we all sit back to wait for it to happen again.

Social workers carry out a fantastic job. There has been a huge step change in schools and teachers, with child protection officers and safeguarding and child protection policies, but the answer is not constantly to have inquiries—it is actually to do something. We know what we need to do. If at any time any of the agencies suspect that something is wrong, they need to act. They need to be prepared to open the door and go into the house to see for themselves. Do we seriously believe that there were not adults around in those very serious cases who did not see a change in those particular children? No child deserves to be treated by way of sexual abuse.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, particularly for the focus that she has brought this evening on prevention. She set out clearly for us the incidence and prevalence of child sexual abuse and made a compelling case for more to be done to support prevention—something which, as she rightly said, is the weak link in current plans and, I would say, in policy and professional practice.

Despite some very high-profile cases lately, as the noble Lord, Lord Storey, said, most children who are sexually abused are still abused within their families, although I think that the explosive influence of the internet may change that over time. Even now, child sexual abuse is not a homogenous phenomenon. There are many contexts for it, and they are all distinctive. A victim can be abused by a single relative. I have come across families in which children are passed around among relatives in a culture of abuse. An individual victim can be abused opportunistically by a stranger or by a person in trust in certain contexts—schools, churches, residential homes, music lessons and so on. Children may be targeted by men acting in pairs or gangs, abused by other young people, groomed online for abuse, used to make pornography and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, reminded us specifically, trafficked in from abroad for the purpose of abuse.

The internet and social media are modern phenomena that have exponentially increased the capacity of predatory abusers to seek out and connect with children, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, pointed out. The case was reported earlier this week, as Members may have seen, of Anthony Marsh, a married man, and Lee Davies who, acting together, contacted more than 2,700 children right across the country. So far, from the images in their computers, police have identified only 17 victims, of whom the men admit to abusing 10, four boys being abused by both of them. They operated for at least eight years, and for the whole of that time Marsh was HIV positive. They have been charged with 69 offences, and pleaded guilty to 55.

There are so many different forms of abuse—and they may be changing with the use of the internet—that there can be no single method of prevention. However, I believe that there are some fundamental approaches which really ought to underpin everything that we can do in terms of prevention. One is to increase the knowledge, the awareness and the resilience of children themselves. The second is to improve the ability of adults to recognise possible abuse, to be open to children disclosing it, and to be able to respond appropriately. The third is that we need a special approach to young people who abuse.

I will make a few comments on these three points, and hope that when the Minister replies he may be able to say what the Government are doing in these areas. First, there is the issue of increasing the knowledge, awareness and resilience of children. Here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and others who argue that there is now an unassailable case for better sex and relationship education within schools as part of a broader PSHE curriculum.

We need to deter children from the kind of risky behaviour with mobile phones, for instance, that was illustrated by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, who also mentioned the dangers of the internet. Education should include talking about positive relationships and avoiding exploitative or coercive ones, and respect for others. I say to the Minister that it is now urgent for the Government to update the guidance for sex and relationship education. This was last revised in 2000, well before a range of relevant legislation that has since been enacted.

The Government could ensure that Ofsted examined the practice of schools in this area much more closely, to raise the standard of preventative education and improve consistency of practice across schools. Schools are the only universal service, and they have a crucial role to play in helping children stand up to behaviour that might turn out to be abusive, and have the confidence to tell trusted adults if this is happening.

Secondly, I turn to improving the ability of parents and adults to recognise and respond. It is clearly essential for teachers, health workers and others, particularly parents, to know where to go to get help if they are worried. I am concerned that these kinds of programmes for parents have diminished. Could the Minister say what the Government are doing to support this? As my noble friend Lord Giddens said, we still see vestiges of that historic denial, as we did in some of the cases of sexual abuse of vulnerable girls by gangs of men.

Lastly but by no means least, there is the significant proportion of abuse committed by children and young people themselves. When a young person is displaying risky behaviour of that type, potentially criminal behaviour, there is more chance of changing that behaviour. That is why prevention by developing special programmes for young people at risk of committing sexual abuse is very important indeed. There are a number of very good programmes, and I wonder what the Government are doing to support them.

My Lords, I conclude this debate by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, for securing it. I also thank the many noble Lords who have participated in the debate for their very valuable contributions. We have all been time-limited, and I am time-limited too. To the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, I say let us see whether we can arrange a debate with a little bit more time and space to develop these arguments.

While my response will answer some of the questions asked by noble Lords, I hope the noble Baroness will allow me to reply in the commentary on the debate to all noble Lords who have participated. I will circulate the commentary to all noble Lords who have participated. I will of course also share it with my right honourable friend Damian Green, who is the Minister heading up the national group, and with Edward Timpson, the Children’s Minister. On top of that I will try to make sure that it also goes to all members of the national group. Our speeches in the debate will therefore demonstrably be circulated to a lot of people. I hope that we will be able to benefit from that.

As the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said, child sexual exploitation is an abhorrent crime, no matter how or when it occurs. Child protection is an absolute priority for this Government from the top down, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, said. We are committed to ensuring that children receive the protection they need and deserve. This is not a quick-fix area of policy. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, graphically displayed the ingrained problems with which Governments and society have to deal. We are committed to learning lessons from the inquiries and investigations that have concluded. That is why the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims, Damian Green, is leading a national group to tackle sexual violence against children and vulnerable people. As I said, I will be drawing his attention to what we have said today.

This group, as noble Lords will probably know, is made up of experts from across government, delivery agencies, inspectorates, the police and voluntary and community sectors including the NSPCC, Barnardo’s and Rape Crisis. Its work is also supported by and benefits from the input of the wider expertise of organisations such as the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, through their membership of the strategic consultative group. Perhaps I may add to the tribute made by the noble Baroness to Lady Faithfull. In this area, progress has frequently been made through the inspiration of outstanding individuals. This debate, if I may say so, has been testimony to it. For example, it has been very helpful to have the experience of the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, on this issue.

Since the group was established in April 2013, it has taken lessons learnt from inquiries and police investigations into historical sexual abuse and current sexual exploitation cases, and identified nine areas for action. Progress has already been made in a number of these priority areas including prevention, policing, criminal justice and online-related issues. We should all be aware that although the point of reporting may be the first time that agencies learn of incidents, the victims have often lived with the horror and impact for many years. This is why the prevention strand of the group’s work has been prioritised and accelerated. It has already seen the delivery of useful early findings on how multi-agency safeguarding approaches work. My noble friend Lord Storey is right to tell us of the role of the education system—and of schools, in particular— in this work.

The noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, asked about human trafficking. Many of us will have been in the Speaker’s great rooms this evening for the APPG on human trafficking, which was extremely well attended. The human trafficking strategy recognises the potential for human trafficking to occur within the confines of the UK. The Government are also clear that child trafficking is an important issue to be considered within the national group. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, for the work she is doing to deal with human trafficking by rail and in other aspects. She has been a hero on that point.

Information sharing and multi-agency working between local services is vital if we are to protect vulnerable people. An excellent example of this new approach is MASH, the multi-agency safeguarding hub, which is a huge improvement in the practical way of protecting children. Multi-agency safeguarding hubs allow real-time conversations to take place about issues including child abuse, domestic violence victims and missing people. We are introducing significant measures to improve the court process for children, and other vulnerable victims of sexual abuse and exploitation, to ensure that all victims of sexual violence are listened to and dealt with appropriately and sensitively, and that they have sufficient confidence in the police and the criminal justice system to report such crimes.

We have consulted on a revised Code of Practice for Victims of Crime, with a bespoke chapter setting out the services and support for child victims. This will be published this autumn, giving victims clearer entitlements from the criminal justice system and tailoring services according to individual needs. Victims under the age of 18 will be automatically entitled to an enhanced service, and we have announced pilot measures for pre-recorded, pre-trial cross-examinations of vulnerable and intimidated witnesses, including children. We are also considering options for ways to reduce the distress that some victims suffer as a result of the trial process, particularly in cases of sexual violence. This will ensure that cross-examination is not protracted and repetitive.

As I have mentioned, tackling this issue requires a multi-agency response with co-ordination across a range of policy areas, operational partners and subject-matter experts. To support this, we have published this year revised statutory guidance in Working Together to Safeguard Children. However, the responsibility, as noble Lords are aware, does not rest just with government. My noble friend Lady Eaton was right to emphasise the local nature of much of this work. We have strengthened local safeguarding children’s boards so that they can hold agencies to account for safeguarding children. The Government are providing funding to the Association of Independent LSCB Chairs, which plays a crucial role in supporting LSCBs to tackle child sexual exploitation.

This is why the Government are investing £1.8 million over the next two years in four new projects trialling new ways of delivering improved support to children and young people specifically at risk of sexual exploitation. In addition, the Government have awarded funding to several other organisations for projects that will contribute to tackling child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups, including £1.2 million over three years, from April 2012 to March 2015, for 13 young people’s advocates to respond to domestic abuse, CSE and gang involvement. The Home Office has also committed £1.72 million per year to part-fund 87 independent sexual violence adviser posts.

This Government have put rape support centres on a secure financial footing for the first time. The Ministry of Justice is providing £4 million over the next year to fund 77 rape support centres across England and Wales, helping rape and sexual assault victims get the expert support that they need. The Government have also provided funding to the NSPCC to provide the ChildLine service and the NSPCC helpline covering the four years, 2011-2015. In total, this grant is £11.2 million over the four years.

In addition, the Government fully recognise the critical and valuable role played by the wide range of charities and the voluntary sector. The have a key role in tackling and preventing this issue. While many agencies and individuals are carrying out fantastic work in the area, we must ensure that we continue to build on and learn the lessons from the past and ensure that children and vulnerable people are getting the protection and the support that they deserve.

I conclude by once again thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, for securing this debate. I hope that noble Lords will consider that it has been a valuable discussion and that we will have an opportunity to return at length to this subject in the future.

Sitting suspended.