Member of Parliament for the Cities of London & Westminster, Nickie Aiken, spoke today in the House during a debate on grooming gangs.
During her speech Nickie called the law to be strengthened through the introduction of a new offence of coercive and controlling behaviours in relation to a child for exploitation purposes.
This has been recommended by the Children’s Society.
You can read Nickie’s speech in full below.
I am grateful to the Petitions Committee for securing time in the Chamber to discuss the distressing but sadly prevalent issue of child sexual exploitation.
I am grateful for the work that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, along with her ministerial team, has been doing in this policy area.
I pay particular tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) for her outstanding and unwavering work to secure justice for all victims of abuse.
I understand that law enforcement capacity and capability is being strengthened and investment made to increase our ability to stop child sexual abuse.
I am grateful that the Government have published a national strategy to protect children from all forms of child sexual abuse and published a paper on the characteristics of group-based child sexual exploitation.
Child exploitation is complex and convoluted. I am concerned that there is currently no provision in legislation to recognise the power imbalance between a child and an adult who targets a child for abuse and exploitation, up until the point that a child is either a victim of sexual abuse or involved in a crime. The lack of recognition of coercive and controlling behaviour in relation to a child prevents successful prosecutions for sexual offences, as well as for modern slavery offences.
Although the abuse happens on a persistent and continual basis, prosecutions often focus on separate counts of offences, requiring a child to remember the details of them all rather than the abuse as a whole.
In sexual abuse cases, teenagers aged 16 and 17 need to prove that sexual activity was not consensual.
The definition of child sexual exploitation is aligned with the earlier definition of child prostitution in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and does not reflect the fact that children may be exploited due to the imbalance of power between a child and an adult.
Available tools such as sexual risk orders, and modern slavery and trafficking risk orders require criminal-level evidence of proof. They also involve lengthy processes before they are even put in place, which can result in a child remaining in an exploitative situation or the situation escalating to abuse before action can even be taken.
Children aged 16 and 17 are not being covered by the provisions of child abduction warning notices or for the purposes of online grooming offences.
In the light of these concerns, The Children’s Society is proposing the introduction of a new offence of coercive and controlling behaviours in relation to a child for exploitation purposes.
I hope Ministers will consider The Children’s Society’s recommendations.
The sexual exploitation of a child is abhorrent and a serious crime.
Working together, we can strengthen the law to hold perpetrators to account and provide their victims with the justice they deserve.
You can also watch Nickie’s speech above.