New guidelines a key tool in the fight against child sexual abuse in Mersey-Cheshire, says region’s top prosecutor

17/10/2013

The Chief Crown Prosecutor for Mersey-Cheshire has welcomed new guidelines on prosecuting child sexual abuse cases.

Claire Lindley said the new approach marks "a fundamental change".

The guidelines were launched today (Thursday 17 October) by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC and follow a three month public consultation.

They confirm that action on child sexual abuse cases should be based on whether the allegation itself is credible rather than if there are any supposed weaknesses in the person making it.

The guidelines include a list of common myths and stereotypes that have impacted on these cases in the past, including the clothes a victim may have been wearing or if they had been drinking.

The CPS is also publishing a joint protocol for the sharing of relevant information about vulnerable children between all agencies, including the police, social services, schools and the family courts.

"This is one of the biggest changes in this area for many, many years," said Claire Lindley.

"This states clearly that a victim's experience should not be invalidated because of what they wore at the time of the alleged attack, or if they'd been drinking or had been in a relationship with the accused, for example.

"For too long, falsely-held beliefs and misconceptions about what a victim should be like have got in the way of these cases. 

"These changes mean these cases will be investigated and prosecuted differently, whatever the vulnerabilities of the victim."

The CPS has issued a list of the commonly held myths that surround child sex abuse cases so they can be actively challenged in court. These will also be sent to judges.

These include:

  • The victim invited sex by the way they dressed or acted
  • The victim used alcohol or drugs and was therefore sexually available.
  • The victim didnt scream, fight or protest so they must have been consenting
  • The victim didnt complain immediately, so it cant have been a sexual assault
  • The victim is in a relationship with the alleged offender and is therefore a willing sexual partner
  • A victim should remember events consistently
  • Children can consent to their own sexual exploitation
  • Child Sexual Exploitation is only a problem in certain ethnic/cultural communities
  • Only girls and young women are victims of Child Sexual Abuse
  • Children from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds are not abused
  • There will be physical evidence of abuse.

Launching the guidelines today, Keir Starmer added: "We know that child sexual abuse is not limited to any one type of community and that has been addressed.

"But prosecutors need to be aware of the additional barriers that some victims might face in coming forward and reporting abuse, such as fearing the shame that making an allegation of sexual abuse might bring upon their family.

"We know that offenders do all they can to deter their victims from making a complaint and we must be alive to the very nasty manipulation that can be used.

"The possession of indecent images of children has been found to be a common feature of these cases, to the extent that we will now ask the police to investigate this aspect in every case we look at.

"We know the way abusers operate, and police and prosecutors are now better equipped than ever to build strong cases for juries to consider."