Thank you very much, Nicola, for inviting me to speak today and I would like to welcome you all, particularly Tim Loughton MP the former Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families and the Chair and other members of the Home Affairs Select Committee to the launch of the joint National Working Group (NWG) and Children’s Society risk assessment toolkit for practitioners. I am delighted to have been invited to speak to you on this important day.
I think we would all agree that one of the key themes surrounding the appalling exploitation of our children and young people is the need for greater awareness amongst practitioners of how to recognise and tackle child sexual exploitation. This, and the need to improve the way agencies work together to tackle the perpetrators and support the victims, is one of the most pressing tasks facing us all.
So I particularly welcome this excellent initiative which provides an easily accessible tool for those who work with young people at risk of abuse. I congratulate Sheila (Taylor) and her team for developing this toolkit and the Children’s Society for their support for this work and would urge all agencies and practitioners to spread the word about this facility, created by professionals, for professionals – the more people that know the better.
I am also particularly pleased to hear of the National Working Group charity’s planned poster and leaflet campaign this needs to be used to inform individuals working in the night time economy. This sits neatly with the Home Office’s work within this area. Individuals within the night time economy may well be working near areas where some of the crimes associated with child sexual exploitation happen. This toolkit will help those individuals to recognise some of the warning signs that these types of crimes may be taking place right next to them, for example in burger bars and other similar establishments. It will also help identify how to report concerns that they may have.
This of course is just one initiative of many we are seeing by experts in this field and I would like to commend all those who are working with government to deliver the work of the National Group on Sexual Violence Against Children and Vulnerable People. Without your help, and the work of these groups, we would not be able to achieve our aims.
As we have seen, child abuse is a terrible crime, no matter when, or where, or by whom, it occurs. We are committed to tackling it, in whatever form it takes. Recent harrowing court cases involving children have highlighted that there is still much more we can do to tackle these appalling crimes and protect child victims of sexual exploitation.
It is clear awareness has grown dramatically over recent years. We have all heard and been made aware of both the historical and recent cases of child sexual exploitation over the last year. We have recently seen a number of cases prosecuted in the courts with a number of convictions and with heavy sentences being handed down, which is exactly right. Good progress is being made but more needs to be done. Today the government is publishing its response to the Home Affairs Select Committee report into child sexual exploitation. In this, we have set out the specific actions that the government is undertaking to tackle this crime. What is clear is that greater awareness of child sexual exploitation will continue to better our collective response.
Those of you who are here today have an essential input into this process and to raising awareness. I am determined that the National Group on Sexual Violence Against Children and Vulnerable People continues to improve cross government delivery, identify problems and solutions and act swiftly to address them. We are looking at longer-term, systemic reforms to protect children and vulnerable people. We want to ensure that all victims of sexual violence are first of all listened to, which did not happen in the past, dealt with appropriately and sensitively, which sometimes did not happen in the past and that they have sufficient confidence in the police and Criminal Justice System to report such crimes. All police forces now have measures in place to ensure that officers are aware of the problem and have the knowledge and skills to deal with it effectively.
Our focus is on the rights and welfare of the victim and we are committed to ensuring that every victim of rape and domestic violence has access to appropriate support. This toolkit will help practitioners to identify and deal with the likelihood of grooming and child sexual exploitation and will improve their chances of identifying it before it takes place. Where child abuse does take place the effects on the victim are not only devastating but can be lifelong. It is vital that victims feel empowered to come forward to report abuse to the police and that they receive the support needed to recover from the trauma of this hateful crime. Let me be clear that if child abuse takes place, it must be thoroughly and properly investigated and those responsible arrested and brought to justice.
Help and support
It is clear the government cannot deliver the response to this alone. The success of our work and indeed of the National Group on Sexual Violence Against Children and Vulnerable People is dependent on your help and support. So in conclusion, we are absolutely committed to doing all we can to protect children and vulnerable people from sexual abuse. Whilst many agencies and individuals are carrying out fantastic work in this area, we must ensure we learn the lessons from mistakes of the past.
Each and every one of you has expertise to bring to this work, and I look forward to your continuing input and advice to help shape the efforts that, in a civilised society, are essential in order to tackle these crimes and to support victims.
So to end, thank you to all who have been involved in this work and long may it continue.