Lucy Allan: The CPS and the police are failing victims of child sexual exploitation
A child victim of a grooming gang does not exercise free will. That consent is still being taken into consideration by the police and the CPS in such cases is wrong, writes Lucy Allan
Recent press coverage of grooming gangs and child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Telford, allowed many victims and their families to come forward and be heard. Some were speaking of historic crimes for the first time, others were speaking of the enormous challenges they faced in getting justice. What has come to light has left me shocked.
I will use my Westminster Hall debate in Parliament on Tuesday to draw attention to a particular issue of concern. CSE perpetrators are successfully avoiding being charged and prosecuted, by arguing that victims were willing participants in sexual intercourse and that they believed the victims to be over 16.
That this can be used as a successful defence leading to no charges being brought, suggests that the authorities do not understand what grooming is, and cannot identify it even when the modus operandi is near identical to other such cases.
Furthermore, given that no charges are brought the perpetrators are not considered to have committed an offence and are not treated as a potential risk to other young people.
Consent to sex must be freely given. A child victim of a grooming gang does not exercise free will. The victim is not choosing to have sex with the perpetrator. Grooming is a subtle process. Victims may have been coerced, or psychologically manipulated and may fear the consequences of saying no. If a child has been groomed, then any consent (be it express or implied) has in effect been forced.
It should never be a defence in a grooming case to say the child victim consented, or as the CPS did in one recent Telford case, that although she did not want to have sex with him, the victim agreed that the perpetrator “would not have been aware from her actions that she did not want sexual intercourse”. Why is the victim even being asked this question?
In the same case, where the victim was groomed from aged 11 and became pregnant at 13, the family attempted to argue that rape charges should be brought.
The CPS told them that despite that “it was right that no charges have been brought,” on the basis that the perpetrator would, from the victim’s actions, have reasonably believed the victim consented. The police also failed to take into consideration that this child had multiple connected abusers.
Child victims of grooming and sexual exploitation should not be asked by police, or in court, whether or not they consented, nor whether the perpetrator would have known from their actions that they did not consent. This amounts to victim blaming.
Consent is not a relevant issue in a child grooming case. That it is still being taken into consideration by the police and the CPS in such cases is wrong. It denies justice to victims and means that known perpetrators are treated as if they were innocent, thus putting other young people at risk.
In one case the CPS said the jury would not believe that the victim had not consented, and decided not to prosecute.
It is unacceptable that a young victim, with multiple abusers, should be treated by the authorities as if she was choosing to engage in sexual activity with multiple unrelated men. If the men are in fact connected to each other and engaging in grooming activities it is wholly wrong for the police to behave as if a 13-year-old girl was in a consenting relationship with each of the men.
While we have made progress in this difficult and sensitive area, there is much more to be done in improving the response to it. I will continue to raise this subject in Parliament. It is the failure to understand CSE that allowed it to go on unchallenged for so long.
Lucy Allan is Conservative MP for Telford. Her Westminster Hall debate takes place on Tuesday 22 May