Government urged to close legal loopholes that make children vulnerable to grooming

Currently, police are prevented from intervening at the earliest possible opportunity, warn Barnardo's and Sarah Champion MP

Girl by window
Photo: Jeff Blackler/Rex (Picture posed by model)

Laws that protect children from being groomed for sex contain loopholes and need to be strengthened, the government has been warned.

In a report, published today, children’s charity Barnardo’s and Labour MP Sarah Champion – who established the Child Sexual Exploitation inquiry last year – urge ministers to close a legal loophole that is preventing police from intervening at the earliest possible opportunity if they suspect a child is being groomed for sex, in person or online.

Under current legislation, for someone to be arrested for ‘meeting a child following sexual grooming’ there must be at least two incidences of contact before a meeting, with the intention of abusing them, takes place. The report instead recommends police should only need to prove one contact if there is also a clear intention to meet and abuse the child.

The report is the result of Champion’s backbench inquiry into child sexual exploitation, which also calls for child abduction warning notices to be strengthened. It recommends making the breach of a child abduction warning notice a criminal offence.

The inquiry, launched in November last year, tested the efficacy of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and recommends wide-ranging legislative and policy recommendations.

They include giving more powers to Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards, changing the ways schools raise awareness about child sexual exploitation (CSE) and giving specialist training to judges and lawyers involved in CSE cases.

Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham, said: “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.

“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.”

Puja Darbari, Barnardo’s UK director of strategy, agreed strong legislation is essential to tackle the grooming of children for CSE. “We must ensure that the police and other authorities have all the necessary tools at their disposal to keep vulnerable children safe.”

Detective Superintendent Ian Critchley, of Lancashire Constabulary, said the changes to legislation identified by the inquiry 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,” he said.

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