Policing and Crime Bill May 2016

Thank you for contacting me recently regarding legal protections for 16 and 17 year-olds from neglect and abuse.

It is profoundly alarming that an estimated 500,000 16-17 year-olds across the country are at particular risk of harm. I know that the Children's Society have helped raise awareness of shortcomings in legal protections and service provision that some 16 and 17-year-olds can experience, and their related 'Old enough to know better?' report on this matter published in November 2015 made a number of important recommendations to address this.

I have been shocked and appalled by revelations and allegations that have been reported about historic child abuse. 26 years ago, after a horrendous child sexual abuse case came to light in our area, I raised with the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher the need for a national institute to figure out the best ways to prevent child abuse. Finally, in June 2015, the Government agreed to set one up.

Child sexual abuse is more evident now than ever, not least because of the many high profile cases over the last few years.  Prevention is about sparing the next generation of children.

Creating a National Institute for the Study and Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse is the most important contribution Parliament and Government can make. A “What Works” institution will pull together the best practise and strongest evidence to stop abusers before they start and make available the best therapies in the world to help restore victims.

On 2nd June 2015, I spoke about this vital issue in Parliament. You can read or watch the debate here: http://www.grahamallenmp.co.uk/National_Institute_for_Study_and_Prevention_of_Child_Sexual_Abuse

To read about my previous campaigning, visit my website below: http://www.grahamallenmp.co.uk/news/2014/09/15/Sexual_abuse_of_children 

I agree it is important that we do more to help protect children and young people and it is welcome that following long-running campaigns inside and out of Parliament, the Government finally legislated through the Serious Crime Act to update the law on child neglect to include psychological and emotional harm. I support this step and believe it is long overdue.

The Government's Policing and Crime Bill provides a good opportunity to send a strong message that sexual offences against 16 and 17-year-olds will always be treated seriously.

I am aware that the Children's Society have recommended that Child Abduction Warning Notices (CAWNs) be extended to 16 and 17-year-olds. CAWNs allow the police to disrupt contact between a young person and an adult when it is feared that there may be a risk of sexual exploitation or harm, and I would encourage the Government to look at their position on this again to see whether 16 and 17-year-olds could be protected by CAWNs.

The Serious Crime Act 2015 brought in an offence of coercive and controlling behaviour in intimate and family relationships, which protects vulnerable individuals, including 16 and 17-year-olds, in cases of domestic abuse. However, I believe similar changes are needed to recognise that 16 and 17-year-olds can be coerced and controlled through drugs or alcohol for the purpose of sexual abuse in more irregular relationships.

I also believe that sentencing guidelines on sexual offences could be amended to further reflect the seriousness of a crime against a young person aged 16 or 17, and I agree that access to mental health support and wellbeing services for victims of sexual abuse is also incredibly important.

I hope the Government carefully consider the 'Seriously Awkward' campaign, and continue to work with local authorities and dedicated organisations such as the Children's Society to ensure that key concerns over safeguarding, abuse and neglect are addressed. I can assure you that I will be following the Policing and Crime Bill as it progresses through Parliament and will bear in mind the points you raise.