Guest blog from Keir Starmer: we must change the way we handle child sexual abuse cases

(22 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 08-Aug-13 12:07:41

Earlier this week, prosecutor Robert Colover described the thirteen year-old victim in a sexual abuse case as 'predatory'; the judge in the case also described the victim as 'egging on' the defendant, who was subsequently given a suspended sentence despite admitting that he had abused the girl.

Following criticism from campaigners, the Crown Prosecution Service has now suspended the lawyer, stating that Colover's choice of language "is not consistent with the work that we have undertaken in the past year to improve attitudes towards victims of abuse."

In this guest post, Director of the Public Prosecution Keir Starmer lays out why he thinks the system is currently failing abused children, and asks for your views on new proposals which could offer child abuse victims a better chance of justice. Find the public consultation over here - and don't forget to tell us what you think here on the thread too.

"Cases of child sexual abuse have received unprecedented coverage over recent months and it is clear that the criminal justice system has not always got its handling of such cases right. As head of the Crown Prosecution Service, I am ensuring that our approach to tackling child sexual abuse changes.

The role of people in society who work to support and protect vulnerable children and victims of Child Sexual Abuse is vital, which is why I think it essential that parents take this opportunity to contribute to the process of reforming our procedures for tackling this issue.

I have recently published guidelines setting out the complexities of bringing these difficult cases to justice, and proposing a new approach to the way the police and prosecutors handle cases of alleged child sexual abuse.

A key part of our new approach has to be the way we perceive the victims and the kind of issues they face. Mumsnet has also been working hard to dispel the myths and stereotypes surrounding rape and sexual abuse victims. The 'We Believe You' campaign is making important strides to address the fact that the credibility of victims of rape and sexual abuse is often instinctively called into question. These guidelines will ensure that my lawyers focus on the overall allegation, rather than the perceived weakness of the person making them. When victims report a burglary, we do not instinctively question their credibility, and nor should we when people report allegations of child sexual abuse.

Many of the victims of child sexual abuse are vulnerable precisely because they are not only young, but they often display some or all of the following characteristics: they are unable easily to trust those in authority and still less able to report intimate details; they use alcohol; they return to the perpetrator of the offences against them; and, not infrequently, they self-harm. These characteristics were previously seen as reasons not to prosecute, but the draft guidance shows the fundamental change in approach. It is also becoming increasingly clear that the number of victims at risk may be considerably higher than previously thought.

Also, an over cautious approach has been adopted on some occasions in the past; perhaps reflecting an understandable concern for guarding against false allegations, but my view is that this degree of caution is not generally justified. The concern should not be ignored, but it is important that it is kept in proper perspective. The risk, otherwise, is of sexual offences being subjected to a different and, in reality, more rigorous test than that applied to victims of other crimes.

These cases are not easy, but recent experience has shown that by patiently building a case and dispelling myths and stereotypes about victims, the CPS can prosecute them successfully.

Parents play a crucial role in helping to detect cases of child sexual abuse, encouraging reporting of such cases to the police, and offering invaluable to support to victims throughout the course of criminal proceedings. Thats why I am putting my new approach out to public consultation and I strongly urge you to share your views here."

This is an updated version of this guest blog.

JuliaScurr Thu 08-Aug-13 12:23:20

These principles should extend to all male violence cases, against adult women (and men) too

The myth of false allegations shelters abusive men by focussing on the reliability, credibility and character of the victim instead of the actions of the perpetrator

GummyLopes Thu 08-Aug-13 13:33:35

I completely agree with what JuliaScurr says above.

All of this is very over-due.

JacqueslePeacock Thu 08-Aug-13 13:38:50

Absolutely agree with the above.

JuliaScurr Thu 08-Aug-13 13:39:03

cheers gummy
smile

facebookaddictno40 Thu 08-Aug-13 13:53:18

Is there anyway as a parent with experience of being let down, I could get involved in this?

Thank you.

facebookaddictno40 Thu 08-Aug-13 13:53:55

As in to share our own personal experiences.

JuliaScurr Thu 08-Aug-13 14:17:22

click on 'here' at the end of the blue box above ^ to contact CPS

kazuwacky Thu 08-Aug-13 15:12:44

This gives me comfort. When I was being abused, I didn't act as an abuse victim "should". I returned to my abuser, defended him, I just wanted it to be normal and ok. I still don't feel I can call myself a victim, I just think people need to be aware that girls and boys who are abused won't be all doe eyed and grateful. Some will be angry, sexually and emotionally damaged and exceptional dysfunctional.

wishes Thu 08-Aug-13 15:16:05

Well said, Julia Scurr.

It's unbelievable that as recently as this week, the CPS should have been employing people to prosecute these cases when they apparently hold these vile and perverse views about children. It's almost as if Robert Colover didn't want to win the case - why else would a prosecutor undermine their own case like that? Did he forget which side was supposed to be on? I also thought that a victim's prior sexual history was not admissable, so why did the judge allow him to call her "sexually experienced"?

One wonders how many more like him are lurking in the woodwork? And what is to be done about the judge who allowed all this? God help any other victims unlucky enough to get him for their case.

New approaches should definitely apply to all victims of sexual offences, not just children, and there must always be a presumption of non-consent.

wishes Thu 08-Aug-13 15:19:42

Incidentally, the consultation seems pretty hard to find on the above link. It's actually here: www.cps.gov.uk/consultations/csa_consultation_index.html#a02

Dackyduddles Thu 08-Aug-13 16:30:54

As juliascurr says above.

Keir, your attitude is both refreshing, helpful, somewhat inspiring and bafflingly over due for a position as such as yours. I do not understand how many of the public can be educated, have changed, but so many professionals appear not to be and depressingly backward. From where you sit can you see why? It bemuses me. Wondered if it were more obvious from where you are.....? Must be a reason?

mignonette Thu 08-Aug-13 17:12:23

Can I clarify that there is an issue with a victim of sexual violence/abuse essentially appearing as a 'witness' and therefore that is why they are open to cross examination?

Solopower1 Thu 08-Aug-13 19:31:27

Does the CPS have any influence in the police service? The prison service?

I was wondering, because maybe they could also look at whether the training the police receive, not just in child abuse cases but in their custody procedures, are fit for purpose. We'll never get a reliable picture of the extent of child abuse that is going on if people are too scared to report it to the police.

Guidelines, h'mm. Not sure if guidelines can ever be enough to change mind sets, tbh. I think rules are what is needed here.

Is it illegal for a lawyer or a judge to make a racist remark in court? What happens if a prosecutor uses a derogatory or offensive term to describe a traveller, a woman, a disabled person, a gay person, someone on benefits? If there is already a process in place to deal with this sort of thing, it shouldn't be too difficult to apply it to certain words and phrases in relation to victims of child sex abuse, like predatory, compliant, leading someone on, sexually experienced, etc. These are words and expressions that have no relevance, no meaning in cases like this.

edam Thu 08-Aug-13 23:00:47

I'm glad Keir Starmer, who seems to be trying to do the right thing in his job generally, has issued these updated guidelines and is trying to drag the CPS into the 21st Century. But this week's case shows the CPS has an awful long way to go.

Chandras Fri 09-Aug-13 02:43:49

FWIW, children who have been groomed for abuse, should not be accused of displaying traits that made them targets for sexual abuse, as those same traits may be the signs of earlier abuse or grooming.

Sexual abuse doesn't start with an adult havind sex with a child, it starts way before with the grooming of the victim.
Many children who are being abused are yet so naive not to realise they are being abused. The reality of the abuse hits them when they are finally old enough to understand that whatever happened was not normal.

stooshe Fri 09-Aug-13 09:57:06

Until the grooming of children (and the adults that surround them) by abusers is understood, nothing will change. Also, we have to accept that not only can lay people be groomed, professionals (police, social workers) can also be groomed. Unfortunately, adults in real life are resistant to admitting that their minds have been taken the mickey with and would rather throw a seemingly sexually mature CHILD under the bus than admit their mistake. Abusers know this and do not underestimate the ego that most people have. They also do not underestimate how low somebody's self esteem can go, too. We concentrate too much on the actual ACT of abuse and not its genesis. The actual abusive act is near enough the last action in a long line of manipulative behaviours. Also we have to look at the people who live with abusers. Did they know or did they CHOOSE not to know? There is a big difference. We also have to understand that abusers not only take advantage of an opportunity, they will make an opportunity to abuse. They lie about any and anything, but hide the truth in there, too ( as they are vain and narcissistic). Only the nimble of mind should deal with people accused of abusing children. This would obviously be controversial. Social workers and solicitors have got degrees. Some of them would not like to hear that they, perhaps are not fit for the purpose of investigating such a case. Too much ego involved and a degree does not prove nimbleness of mind. The police are, unfortunately usually the ones that are the most peed off when a case does not result in incarceration. Social workers and the law have to talk more with each other as to their knowledge of grooming, personality disorders (all abusers are narcissists, even though all narcissists are not abusers) and general psychology. We need people who stay within the law, but think outside the box investigating and prosecuting these cases.
The children are the victims whether they are as tough as nails or rosy cheeked.

WilsonFrickett Fri 09-Aug-13 10:36:37

Stooshe I think that's a brilliant post.

Keir Starmer has been on MN a lot over the past year or so: he always talks great sense and seems to be utterly on the side of the victim. Yet cases like last week's still happen - so there's clearly a gap between Keir's drive and what happens on the ground.

Closing this gap I think will be incredibly difficult - as Stooshe says, it goes to the heart of professionals' perceived skills and prejudices. But it MUST be closed. Let's not forget Rochdale, for example - the young women had reported, they had said 'this is wrong' and they were ignored. I'm not a police/SW basher by any means, but clearly something is going wrong for our young people and adults.

Absolutely Stooshe. Nobody is beyond manipulation, but the as adults we have a responsibility to stand up for the children who are groomed and abused even if we have to admit that we were taken in, too.

mignonette Fri 09-Aug-13 17:20:22

Excellent managerial, peer and clinical supervision is key I think to help address the issues highlighted by Stoosh in her insightful post. I have personally found this essential to measure my assessment of a situation with that of others both 'more' experienced and less too.

LeStewpot Sat 10-Aug-13 08:55:56

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

edam Sat 10-Aug-13 10:12:48

Good point, Stewpot.

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