The children’s commissioner for England has suggested lowering the burden of proof in cases of child sex abuse, arguing that the current system is “not fit for purpose”.
Anne Longfield’s proposal follows a ruling by a family court judge that 13-month-old Poppy Worthington was, on the civil standard of balance of probabilities, sexually assaulted by her father just before her death in 2012.
Paul Worthington, 48, who has denied harming his daughter, did not face criminal charges after police failures in the first investigation, and after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) deemed there was insufficient evidence from a second police inquiry to prove his guilt under the criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt.
Longfield told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What this case really sharply illustrates is the difficulty there is in giving evidence in the case of child sex abuse, especially within the family.
“We know that the vast majority of cases aren’t reported in the first place, but even those that are reported, the vast majority don’t go to court because the evidence just isn’t there. And when looking at the burden of beyond reasonable doubt, it’s very sharply in contrast to the kind of ruling we saw from the judge last week, which is about balance of probability.”
Asked whether Worthington’s case was more about the police’s failure to collect evidence, she said officers should and could have done better. But, she added, the level of evidence needed in cases of familial child sex abuse was not usually available because they were not reported until a long time after the event. This meant forensic evidence was unavailable and/or the accounts of alleged victims could be muddled.
“We need to understand that if we are serious about tackling child sexual abuse, we need to better decide what does constitute good evidence and that’s something not for me, for the police; it’s for social services, it’s for the judiciary,” she said.
“It doesn’t mean a wholesale move over to a ruling by a judge and wholesale embracement of [balance of] probability but it does mean we need to look at improving a system that isn’t fit for purpose for those that are experiencing sexual abuse.”
In his judgment, made public last week, Mr Justice Peter Jackson found that Worthington had abused Poppi in the hours before she died. He also concluded that the investigation into her death was hindered by police errors.
Amid the uproar after Jackson’s ruling was published, the CPS, which had previously refused to review its files on Worthington’s case, announced that it would re-examine the evidence.
he tragic case of Poppi Worthington, who died in December 2012 aged just 13 months, hit the headlines recently. Despite strong criticism of the police investigation by the family court judge Justice Jackson, who identified a series of police errors, it seemed, at first, that no one was prepared to reopen the case. Not the first, nor the last, example of a victim or victim’s family getting to the end of the line with no redress.
Last week, Phoebe Greenwood wrote courageously about being mugged and having her allegation of assault dropped, at least in part because she had been drinking. She described her understandable sense that access to justice had been denied. She, of course, had gone to the police. But thousands of victims don’t. Over 80% of victims of sexual and personal violence do not have sufficient confidence in our criminal justice system to report what has happened to them.
Even where cases are brought, victims’ experience of our criminal justice system frequently falls well below their expectations. When I was director of public prosecutions, I met John and Penny Clough. Their daughter Jane was murdered in the car park of Blackpool Victoria hospital, where she worked, by her ex-partner because she had made allegations of domestic violence and rape against him. As her parents slowly recounted to me their journey through our courts, the mismatch between the rhetoric and reality of victims’ rights could not have been starker.
Claire Waxman, herself a victim of serial stalking, has repeatedly described the various ways in which she was let down as a victim, including by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) under my watch. She also decided to do something about it and persuaded the MP Elfyn Llwyd to introduce a victims bill in parliament in March 2015. When that bill fell with the election, Waxman turned to me to reintroduce it.
Having spent a good deal of 2014 with Doreen Lawrence – who of course has her own personal experience of our criminal justice system – consulting victims, victims’ groups and experts in the field, I jumped at the chance. This Friday, the bill we have drafted is listed for its second reading.
The bill is the first of its kind: it aims to provide end-to-end support for victims. It tackles the problem of underreporting by requiring every police force area to have safe places to report. Most victims of sexual or personal violence do not want to go to a police station to report what has happened to them. We can either insist that they do, or provide an alternative. The bill does the latter.
It also tackles the lack of consistency in victims’ services by requiring police and crime commissioners to assess both the need for and provision of victims’ services in their area. It also puts in a place a quality assurance scheme. That we have got to 2016 without agreed standards for the provision of victims’ services tells you all you need to know about our priorities.
We also propose putting the victims’ right to review policy, which I introduced for the CPS, on a statutory footing and extending it to the police. That way, when the police or prosecutors decide not to start a case or to drop a case, the victim has a simple and straightforward remedy; no better evidence of the need for this can be found than the case of Poppi Worthington.
The victims’ code, first introduced in 2006 and subsequently supported by successive governments, has been a step in the right direction. But without real legal teeth it has not been as effective as it could have been. The bill seeks to remedy that by making the code enforceable. It also provides an opportunity to broaden and strengthen the rights set out in the code.
There are also provisions for “ground rule” hearings in court. These, as their name suggests, provide an opportunity for a judge to exercise control over the nature and extent of the cross examination of witnesses and victims in sensitive cases. Not a new development, but a welcome one.
At the last election, the Conservative party matched Labour by promising a victims’ law in its manifesto. The victims’ bill, which I have drafted with Claire Waxman and Doreen Lawrence, has cross-party support. It is intended as the “gold standard” for victims. In one sense, of course, it presents a challenge to the government. But I hope the government will also see it as an invitation to pick it up and run with it.
Little known fact about the federal trafficking laws: any time a porn performer experiences force, fraud, or coercion on a shoot, they meet the definition of a trafficking victim.
So if they are prevented from leaving a scene while it’s being shot, that is force.
If they shown up on set expecting a certain kind of scene (lesbian) and it turns out the scene is different (gang bang) that is fraud.
If they are told they’ll never work again when they refuse to do a scene, that is coercion.
That kind of shit happens all the time.
I’d bet a sizable percentage of porn performers would meet the definition of trafficking victims.