From November 2015:
Tens of thousands of sex crimes against 16- and 17-year-olds are going unreported because teenagers fear going to court or do not recognise their ordeals as serious abuse, according to the Children’s Society.
The charity compared freedom of information (FOI) requests to police forces and an analysis of the crime survey for England and Wales and found a huge disparity between the number of recorded offences and youngsters’ experiences.
Its research, based on FOI requests to 30 police forces, shows that there were around 4,900 reported sex crimes last year in which the victim was aged 16 or 17. The crime survey found that 8.6% of girls in that age group told investigators they were victims – equivalent to 50,000 people. The rate of abuse reported in the survey was higher than for any other age group.
The society’s report calls for an better legal framework to provide additional support for teenagers over the age of 16, who are deemed to be above the age of consent but may nonetheless be inexperienced.
The law does not take age-related vulnerabilities, such as emotional and physiological changes and brain development in adolescents, into account in grooming and sexual exploitation cases, the report says.
“It also does not take into account any other factors that make them vulnerable to abuse, for example previous experiences of neglect and abuse, mental health problems, being in care or living away from their birth families,” it says.
“The ability of 16- and 17-year-olds to consent to sexual activity – without a clear definition of what true informed consent is in cases where an adult targets a vulnerable 16- or 17-year-old for sexual favours – can make professionals reluctant or unsure about the course of action they should undertake.”
Matthew Reed, the chief executive of the Children’s Society, said: “Too many children are being left to suffer sexual exploitation in silence. Despite 16- and 17-year-olds being at the highest risk, they often receive the least support.
“Dangerous inconsistencies in the law and services need to be changed. These young people are still children and the government must make sure that the police and other agencies have the means they need in order to keep them safe.”
The crime survey for England and Wales traditionally reports far higher levels of crime than the number of recorded offences, sometimes more than double. The figures for sex crimes, however, particularly among teenagers, shows far greater divergence.
The Children’s Society report says that half of the young people who did not report sex crimes to the police failed to do so either because they did not consider it worth reporting, feared going to court, or did not want the perpetrators to be punished. Its conclusions come from interviews with the children and young people it works with who have been sexually abused or are at risk of sexual exploitation.
Some teenagers fear they will not be believed or that they will be judged. Others are scared of the perpetrators, or uncertain about what constitutes crime, consent and sexual exploitation.
The report, Old Enough to Know Better? Why Sexually Exploited Teenagers are Being Overlooked, also found that of the cases reported to the police, fewer than one in five resulted in a charge or summons.
Children aged 16 and 17 are often blamed for putting themselves in risky situations, even when they have been specifically targeted and groomed through the use of drugs and alcohol, the Children’s Society said.