Sex abusers freed because evidence from children fails to convince juries

The conviction rate for child sex abuse over the past seven
years has remained low, even though children living away from home
are better protected than they were in the mid-1990s, says

The study is a review of progress since the publication of People
Like Us in 1997, a report by the former chief inspector of social
services Sir William Utting, on safeguards for children living away
from home.

It says there is an “extremely low” rate of convictions for child
sex abuse and that this is undermining efforts to prevent potential
abusers from working with children.

Between 1985 and 2001 recorded offences of gross indecency with a
child more than doubled, while the number of convictions fell from
42 per cent to 19 per cent. It is estimated that fewer than one in
50 sexual offences result in a conviction.

Barbara Hopkin, a child care lawyer at London-based solicitors
Hopkin Murray Beskine, says this is partly because juries find it
difficult to believe that “normal looking” people are child sex
offenders. Many are charming and trusted by adults as this is what
gives them access to children. “What chance has a child got against
that person?” she asks.

Hopkin believes the public needs more information about child sex
abuse which would help juries make better decisions. “The public
needs to be educated that a paedophile can be anyone, but people
don’t want to believe that, which is a problem,” she says.

Physical evidence is available in few cases, with many coming to
court years after the event. In some cases injuries may also be
incorrectly put down to the administration of medication, such as
anal valium. These factors, together with a lack of witnesses,
leave the child’s word against the adult’s in many cases.

Hopkin says children’s evidence is not always given the same
credibility as adults’, even though research has shown that
children are as reliable.

Phillip Noyes, director of public policy at children’s charity the
NSPCC, says:”We still have an inbuilt prejudice that doesn’t really
take what children say seriously.”

Noyes says improvements have been made in the way children give
their evidence in court but agrees with the research that the
implementation of new arrangements is patchy.

For example, he says, only some courts are aware of new measures
that allow children to receive therapeutic help before giving
evidence to help them overcome their distress.

The time it takes for a report of alleged abuse to reach court is
also an issue. Hopkin says this is usually a period of months but
she would like it to become weeks as children want the case to be
over quickly and it would lead to them giving better evidence.
Noyes agrees that the shortest gap possible is the ideal.

Hopkin also says there has been leniency from the courts. Recently,
the attorney-general Lord Goldsmith QC said a decision by Bristol
Crown Court not to jail Michael Barrett, who had sex with a
12-year-old girl he met over the internet, was “unduly lenient”. He
referred the case to the Court of Appeal last month.

The study calls for the Home Office to research why there is a low
conviction rate. For many, the key is to value children more and
treat them as equals.

Progress on Safeguards for Children Living Away from
Home from

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.