Sarah Champion MP and Barnardo's call for tougher laws to protect children from being groomed by sex offenders


Sarah Champion MP and the children's charity Barnardo's are together calling on the government to toughen up laws that protect children from being groomed by predatory sex offenders. A report published today by Barnardo's and Sarah Champion MP recommends that a legal loophole be closed which will allow police to step in sooner if they suspect a child is being groomed for sex. This includes grooming online.

Under current legislation for someone to be arrested for the offence of meeting a child following sexual grooming there must be at least two incidences of contact before a meeting takes place, with the intention of abusing them.

In order to better protect vulnerable children Barnardo's and Sarah Champion MP are demanding that police should only need to prove one contact if there is also a clear intention to meet and abuse the child.

The report, which follows a backbench inquiry into child sexual exploitation led by Sarah Champion MP, also calls for child abduction warning notices to be strengthened.

A child abduction warning notice is given by police to someone they suspect of acting inappropriately towards a child preventing them from having contact with that child. At the moment breaching the order is not illegal however under the proposed changes it would become a criminal offence. This will enable police to intervene earlier to protect children and stop them from coming to harm.

The inquiry which tested the effectiveness of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 has made a wide range of legislative and policy recommendations, including:

More powers to be given to Local Safeguarding Children's Boards

Changes to the way children learn about sexual exploitation in schools with a focus on prevention

Specialist training to be given to all judges and lawyers involved in cases of child sexual exploitation

Removal of the term "child prostitution" from legislation

Information about the myths and stereotypes about child sexual exploitation to be provided to jurors on relevant cases

Launched on November 20 2013 to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 the inquiry consisted of four evidence sessions.

The cross-party panel of parliamentarians heard from victims of child sexual exploitation as well as representatives from the police, legal profession, local authorities and the voluntary sector.

Sarah Champion MP for Rotherham said: Through this inquiry we have shone a light on child sexual exploitation. We wanted to know what we as a society are doing right and where we are failing those who fall victim to this terrible crime.

During the inquiry we heard a great deal of compelling and heartrending evidence and I would like to thank all those who contributed.

We have set out a number of legislative suggestions that we believe will improve the way child sexual exploitation is tackled in this country. I implore the government and other relevant authorities to look closely at our recommendations.

Barnardo's UK director of strategy Puja Darbari said: It is essential that we have strong legislation in place to tackle the grooming of children for sexual exploitation. We must ensure that the police and other authorities have all the necessary tools at their disposal to keep vulnerable children safe.

Barnardo's worked with nearly 2,000 sexually exploited children last year and we see first-hand the devastating impact these crimes can have.

It is to be hoped that by acting on the recommendations outlined in this report we can create a system that puts the welfare of sexually exploited children at its very heart.

Detective Superintendent Ian Critchley, Lancashire Constabulary, said: It is essential that police have all the necessary powers to protect vulnerable children from the horrors of child sexual exploitation.

When there is suspicion that a child is being groomed there is no reason why police should have to prove a second contact at all when a first can be proved.

This inquiry has identified changes to legislation which would enable the police to do their job more effectively. It is my hope that these recommendations are taken on board in order that we can better protect children from being abused and seek to bring offenders to justice.

NewsVanessa Johns