CPS publishes fundamental new approach to prosecuting cases of Child Sexual Abuse as local government and Family Courts agree to share information for stronger prosecutions
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, QC, has today (Thursday 17 October) set out the clear, agreed approach prosecutors will take to tackle cases of child sexual abuse after a public consultation showed widespread support for the CPS interim guidelines. A list of stereotypical behaviour previously thought to undermine the credibility of young victims is now included to dispel the associated myths when bringing a prosecution.
Alongside the guidelines the CPS is also publishing a joint protocol for information sharing in child sexual abuse cases. Police and prosecutors are now expected to share and seek appropriate information about vulnerable youngsters with and from social services, schools and family courts in accordance with the protocol and a good practice model. This is supported by senior judges in the criminal and family courts, the Local Government Association, the Department for Education, the Association of Directors of Children Services, the Association of Chief Police Officers, and the Association of Independent Local Safeguarding Children's Board among others.
Mr Starmer said: "In the past five years our approach to prosecuting sexual offences has matured and developed - but this change marks the most fundamental attitude shift across the Criminal Justice System for a generation. For too long, child sexual abuse cases have been plagued by myths about how 'real' victims behave which simply do not withstand scrutiny. The days of the model victim are over. From now on these cases will be investigated and prosecuted differently, whatever the vulnerabilities of the victim.
"The final guidelines, which have been subject to a three month public consultation, confirm that the now accepted approach is that the prosecution must focus on the overall credibility of an allegation rather than the perceived weakness of the person making it. The fact that these guidelines are a culmination of discussions with judges, the police, experts, victims' representatives, and government means they can now stand test of time.
"In addition, the joint information sharing protocol is a real breakthrough. Sharing information, such as school files which may help police and prosecutors piece together compelling evidence of abuse, will now be done. All those who have supported this information sharing protocol share a mutual aim of protecting children, and I am confident that this protocol will help us all to do that.
"In order that we challenge those past assumptions, I have produced a list of common myths and stereotypes around this type of offending so that we can actively challenge them in court."
The list of common myths and stereotypes covers:
- The victim invited sex by the way they dressed or acted
- The victim used alcohol or drugs and was therefore sexually available
- The victim didn't scream, fight or protest so they must have been consenting
- The victim didn't complain immediately, so it can't 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
- CSE is only a problem in certain ethnic/cultural communities
- Only girls and young women are victims of CSA
- Children from BME backgrounds are not abused
- There will be physical evidence of abuse
The guidelines place an emphasis on gathering all the relevant evidence in order to build strong cases for juries to consider and the information sharing protocol will be crucial to this aim. Prosecutors will also be expected to ensure that any case of child sexual abuse is investigated by the police for possession of indecent images of children.
Mr Starmer said: "Police investigations into child sexual abuse will be greatly bolstered by the information that will now be shared with us by local government agencies and the family courts. If we are able to present additional evidence to support the allegation, then our chances of securing convictions greatly increase. With this protocol, no evidential stone will be left unturned and offenders should be on notice.
"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. Other investigative techniques we will ensure the police use will be gathering any CCTV footage, using car number plate recognition in cases where victims are moved around and speaking to victims' friends and peers for background and context. We know the way abusers operate, and police and prosecutors are now better equipped than ever to build strong cases for juries to consider."
The guidelines will also highlight a number of ways in which victims of child sexual abuse are manipulated and blackmailed into keeping quiet about their abuse - including threats to publish indecent images or implicating their victims in other offending. Similarly, the guidelines now raise awareness of the control offenders can have over their victims in some ethnic communities where emphasis is placed on notions of 'honour' and 'shame'.
Mr Starmer said: "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."
Sue Berelowitz, Deputy Children's Commissioner for England, said: "The CPS' new guidelines on prosecuting cases of child sexual abuse are important in helping to address this damaging crime and support its victims. They have worked hard to improve the experiences of child witnesses and increase the likelihood of securing convictions by ensuring that judges and juries better understand the psychological and emotional impact on victims of their appalling experiences. The CPS should be applauded for their work."
Alison Worsley, Deputy Director of Strategy at Barnardo's, said: "A wholesale shift in attitudes is required throughout the legal system when dealing with the child victims of sexual exploitation and these guidelines are a step towards achieving that.
"We must make sure we always listen to what children are telling us, often through their behaviour rather than just words, and consign stereotypes and myths to the history books.
"The challenge comes now for police and prosecutors to live up to the word of the guidance and make the crucial changes needed in practice."
The new guidelines on prosecuting cases of Child Sexual Abuse are available on the CPS website and are also downloadable as a PDF document. The 2013 Protocol is also available to download in full from this website.
Notes about the Third Party Protocol
- 1.1. The signatories to the 2013 Protocol and Good Practice Model (hereinafter the "2013 protocol") with the exception of the paragraphs listed at 1.4 below are the Senior Presiding Judge, the President of the Family Division, and the Director of Public Prosecutions on behalf of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
- 1.2. This 2013 protocol is issued with the support of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), HM Courts & Tribunals Service and the Association of Independent Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) Chairs
- 1.3. The Department for Education (DfE), the Welsh Government (WG), Local Government Association (LGA) and Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) are not signatories to the 2013 protocol and the content of this document is not, nor does it seek to be binding on Local Authorities. However, the DfE, WG, LGA and ADCS support the content of this document and consider it to be a Good Practice Model, offered by way of assistance, and therefore urge all Local Authorities to adopt the disclosure practices described within the document, observance of which will improve timeliness and therefore achieve better outcomes for children and young people who are subject to the relevant proceedings.
- 1.4. This 2013 protocol will apply to cases involving criminal investigations into alleged sexual or non-sexual child abuse (child victims who were aged 17 and under at the time of the alleged offending) and/or Family Court proceedings concerning a child (aged 17 and under).
- This 2013 protocol will come into force on 1 January 2014.
Notes to Editors
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- The CPS, together with ACPO and media representatives, has developed a Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media. This sets out the type of prosecution material that will normally be released, or considered for release, together with the factors we will take into account when considering requests. Read the Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media.