Saturday, October 19News For London

MPs to debate ‘Seriously Awkward’ questions about teenage sexual exploitation

The Children’s Society will call on the government this week to protect 16 and 17 year olds from being victims of sexual crimes.

Sexually exploited 16 and 17 year olds are being treated as adults under the law Photo by Tarré
Sexually exploited 16 and 17 year olds are being treated as adults under the law.
Photo by Tarré

Through their ‘Seriously Awkward’ campaign, The Children’s Society is asking the government to strengthen the law so that 16 and 17 years receive the same legal protection and support as younger children.

The national charity identified young females in this age group to be most at risk of sexual exploitation, yet the least protected by the law.

“We are going to explore the many ways that 16 and 17 years olds are falling through the gaps,” campaigner Andy Soar told Westminster World.

“Mostly we are concerned with the laws around sexual exploitation of 16 and 17 year olds, and how they are currently not given the same protections as younger children.”

As this ‘awkward’ age group can legally consent to sexual intercourse, they are often not recognised as victims of sexual exploitation, the charity explained.

Child sexual exploitation can include violence, threats, bribes, humiliation or false promises to coerce or groom a victim into performing sexual activities.

MPs will take part in a debate on this motion to protect 16 and 17 year olds from child sexual exploitation in the Commons Chamber this Thursday.

Kit Malthouse, Conservative MP for North West Hampshire will open the debate and put forward the findings and recommendations of The Children’s Society report.

“The speech will call on the government to toughen up sentences and extend protections,” Malthouse’s communications officer, Ethan Brookes, told Westminster World.

The debate will focus on tougher sentences to punish perpetrators to deter sexual crimes as well as a wider societal impact.

“We want to try change the way the public and juries see these vulnerable children, as they weren’t taking them seriously before.” According to Brookes, this can be achieved through extending legal protections to all children.

In pictures: Eva’s journey of vulnerability

The above story was used as a case study in the ‘Old enough to know better?’ report. 

Old enough to know better?

In a report ‘Old enough to know better?’ The Children’s Society analysed the Crime Survey for England and Wales and found nearly one in 10 teenage girls aged 16 and 17 have experienced a sexual offence in the last year.

This amounts to approximately 50,000 young girls in the age group if these findings are reflected across the population.

The report found that vast numbers of sexual offences against older teenagers went unreported in the last year.

Of the total number of 16 and 17 year olds who did not report sexual offences to the police, 50 percent told the charity they did not believe it was worth reporting.

Others reasons included not wanting to go to court, or not wanting the perpetrators of the abuse to be punished.

On average, 4.7 crimes per 1000 teenagers aged 16 and 17 were recorded, according to data from 30 police forces in England. This equates to 4,900 sexual offences recorded across England.

The data further indicated that one in five cases of sexual crimes, where the victim is aged 16 or 17, recorded by the police resulted in charges.

However, eight out of ten cases resulted in no further action owing to a lack of evidence or the victim not being willing or able to progress.

According to the campaign, more than three quarters of reported sexual crimes against 16 and 17 year olds resulted in no police action against the perpetrator.

Who is protected?

Children under 12 are fully protected by the law as sexual offences against this age group are always considered crimes.

The same is true for 13 -15 year olds, however, not if the child is reasonably believed to be 16.

Teenagers aged 16 and 17 receive limited protected, such as in cases of sexual abuse by a family member, pornography, and offences related to prostitution.

Last month Home Secretary Theresa May said the courts will always consider a case of sexual exploitation more seriously when the victim is a child, and that includes 16 or 17 year olds.

Perpetrators will be sentenced more severely in cases where victims are particularly vulnerable, such as those involving 16 or 17 year olds, May said.

May stressed that tackling child sexual exploitation is a top priority for the Government.

“We recognise the vulnerability of those who are 16 and 17, who are sometimes treated as and considered as adults but are equally as vulnerable as younger people and need the protection and care we should be giving them when we deal with these difficult issues,” she said.