Skip to main content

Child Sexual Exploitation Victims

Volume 796: debated on Tuesday 19 March 2019


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer given in the other place by my honourable friend the Minister for Crime and Safeguarding. The Statement is as follows:

“As you have outlined, Mr Speaker, I am conscious this question relates to an ongoing legal case and as such, it would not be appropriate to comment on the specific case or cases. But I reassure you that the Government want all victims and survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation to feel that they can come forward to report abuse, and that they get the support they need when they do. We are committed to working across government to ensure victims can move on from the abuse they have suffered and that professionals, including the police, who come into contact with a victim recognise exploitation when they see it and respond appropriately.

The Government are committed to acting to protect the public and to helping employers make safe recruitment decisions. The disclosure and barring regime is an important part of supporting employers to make informed recruitment decisions in relation to roles working with children and vulnerable adults, and a limited range of other circumstances. The criminal record disclosure regime seeks to strike a balance between safeguarding children and the vulnerable and enabling individuals to put their offending behind them.

The House will be aware that the Supreme Court recently handed down a judgment in the case of P and others, which affects certain rules governing the disclosure regime. The Government are considering the implications of the judgment and will respond in due course. However, it is also important to note that the Supreme Court recognised that the regime balances public protection with the rights of individuals to a private life. It applies only to certain jobs that are protected, and it is for employers to decide someone’s suitability for a role once they are armed with the facts”.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer to the Urgent Question given in the other place earlier today. The victims of sexual abuse and exploitation have the pain of the trauma they have suffered with them every day of their lives. It cannot be right that the victims are forced to live with the consequence of the exploitation that they have suffered: that is a further injustice. Will the Minister set out the Government’s position in respect of Sammy’s law? That would appear to be our way forward.

I can talk about Sammy Woodhouse. The noble Lord will know that she was discussed in the other place. Victoria Atkins met Sammy Woodhouse on 14 March 2018 to talk through her ideas and understand how government can best help her and other victims of exploitation. The Minister said that the Government would work with the police, the CPS and others to protect future victims of exploitation and ensure that we do not unnecessarily criminalise those who have been exploited. In respect of Sammy’s law, the Government are considering the recent court judgment on previous convictions of victims but I cannot comment further due to ongoing legal proceedings.

My Lords, this case is about three women who were sexually exploited as girls, forced into prostitution and therefore have convictions for soliciting. For years, the injustice perpetrated on them has been compounded, as they have been obliged to declare these convictions that they received in their early lives in job applications and even in applying for their local PTA. They won the High Court case, yet I understand the Minister to be saying that the Government have announced their intention to challenge the decision.

The Minister talked about the criminal record disclosure system seeking to,

“strike a balance between safeguarding children and the vulnerable and enabling individuals to put that offending behind them”.

I am struggling to see that balance. I know that the Government cannot comment on ongoing cases, but can the Minister tell us what the mechanism would be for the Government to think again and apply fairness and compassion in these cases?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right that I cannot comment on an ongoing legal case. What I can understand—and what the Government have sought to do and succeeded in doing over the last few years—is to see people as both victims and perpetrators through some of the coercion and exploitation in which they have been involved. We will consider this as the case proceeds, but the Government have put a great deal of time and effort into working with people who have been exploited and who find themselves victims of child sexual exploitation, gangs, knife crime or drug involvement. There have been various interventions: the noble Baroness will have listened to debates on the Offensive Weapons Bill and will have heard me outline the youth endowment fund, which we are bringing forward. She will have listened to the various multiagency approaches to helping victims of child sexual exploitation get over the terrible pain that has been caused to them, to avoid getting trapped in what originally happened to them, and to go on to lead good lives.

My Lords, it is very concerning to hear that young people who have been groomed into criminal activity and then become victims of sexual abuse and discouraged from even disclosing their abuse because of the fear of their own criminalisation should then not have the opportunity to have those crimes forgotten. Can the Minister tell the House whether such young people are also then denied access to criminal injury compensation? Is this indeed the case?

The noble Baroness will of course appreciate that every case is different. She will also realise that, as I just outlined to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, the big spectrum of exploitation that children can suffer can also manifest itself in different ways. The Government are determined to deal with some of these problems at source, with early intervention and prevention, so that children do not find themselves sexually exploited and are able to go on to lead lives that are free from the sorts of harms that we have been talking about.