Daily Archives: May 21st, 2013

“Grooming victims in danger of ‘reliving abuse’ by giving evidence in dock”

Justice experts and children’s charities have expressed alarm at the “shocking” language used to describe sexually exploited young girls during the trial of a street grooming ring based in Oxford that concluded last week with the convictions of seven men.

They are calling for an urgent reform of attitudes towards victims of grooming, and expressed fears that unless the current criminal justice system is changed more young people will be in danger of “reliving their abuse” if they give evidence in court. During the four-month trial at the Old Bailey, defence teams sought to portray the victims as “naughty girls” who had lied about their ages and had consented to sex.

One witness was accused by a defence barrister of “telling a whopper” when she said she was threatened with having her throat slit if she did not perform a sex act on the men.

Another defence barrister asked: “Were these girls victims from the start or were they naughty girls doing grown-up things they bitterly regret?”

One was branded an unreliable witness as a result of her “awful, abused, abusive and desperate life”, while another was scorned for returning to her abuser after she had been raped.

“Some of the language heard [during] this trial has been shocking,” said Anne Marie Carrie, Barnardo’s chief executive. “It is wholly inappropriate to imply in any way that the victims’ horrific experiences were something they had brought on themselves.”

Carrie said depicting the victims as “naughty girls” who were “not behaving like children” demonstrated a profound misunderstanding of how exploitation was perpetrated. She pointed out that exploitation could cover a broad spectrum of activity, from seemingly “consensual” relationships or “informal exchanges of sex” for attention, accommodation, gifts or cigarettes, through to being used in serious, organised crime.

“The predatory nature of the perpetrators of these crimes means that vulnerable victims do not realise they are being abused because they have been manipulated into believing they are in a loving relationship,” Carrie said.

The use of multiple barristers to cross-examine the girls meant their accounts sometimes varied. This was seized on by defence teams to suggest the girls were lying.

Harry Fletcher, a criminal justice expert, said the use of up to 30 defence lawyers in the case had resulted in “chaos”. He warned that it was crucial to learn from the Oxford case. “There needs to be a different way of doing things,” Fletcher said. “Young people will end up being revictimised if they are put through a tortuous trial and cross-examination.”

A survey of Barnardo’s services in England and Wales revealed that last year, of 56 known police investigations, only 15 have so far resulted in prosecutions and six of those in convictions.

The director of public prosecutions has committed the crown prosecution service to improving its response to sexual exploitation victims. But Carrie said the Oxford case had demonstrated that more still needs to be done to reform attitudes towards victims of child sexual exploitation at every stage of the justice system.

“It is essential that we take urgent steps to manage the impact of the invasiveness of court proceedings on vulnerable young people and ensure that victims of sexual exploitation are treated as children before, during and after court proceedings,” she said.

From the Observer