Child victims of violent and sexual crimes are not being taken seriously when they report offences, the victims’ commissioner for England and Wales has said.
In a review into young victims of crime, Lady Newlove says children who seek help from criminal justice agencies are often not believed, made to feel like criminals and accused of wasting police time.
The report, published on Wednesday, concludes that despite high-profile inquiries into child abuse in Rotherham and the Jimmy Savile scandal “lessons are still not being learnt about believing young victims”.
Newlove said: “These children and young victims feel let down by the system that is meant to protect them. It is time attitudes towards them were changed.
“I want to see agencies working together to make sure young and vulnerable victims feel supported through the criminal justice process. They deserve to be taken seriously, for their allegations to be thoroughly investigated and to be treated with dignity and respect.”
The review examined the cases of 12 girls aged between nine and 17, interviewing the victims or their parents. Complaints included that they were not taken seriously because of their age and not kept updated about their case.
Several girls said they felt like the criminal while being interviewed. One described it as being like “a test subject, a monkey in a cage to be prodded”, and another said she was “told it was my fault and I was being stupid”.
As a result of their treatment and the lack of a conviction, some said they had lost faith in the criminal justice system.
One girl who gave evidence in court said she was allowed to do so behind a screen so that she did not have to face the offender but that he was still in the courtroom and saw her when she came out.
A rape victim said she was interviewed by male officers on three separate occasions, despite asking for a female officer each time.
It was not just the police and lawyers who came in for criticism. Victims also complained that social workers, teachers and society as a whole did not believe them.
Newlove recommends that criminal justice agencies should review policies and procedures in relation to childhood victims, monitor their satisfaction and have a single point of contact for them. She also urges the judiciary to ensure defence barristers adhere to practice directions when questioning vulnerable victims.
The report coincides with publication of the first draft guidance drawn up by the health regulator aimed at helping professionals working with children outside health settings to spot abuse or neglect.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) guidelines, which have gone out for consultation, advise the likes of teachers and police officers that tantrums, excessive clinginess and being withdrawn are possible signs of abuse or neglect in children, particularly if they are out of character. But it also urges professionals to use their judgment and experience rather than rely on formal protocol.
The Nice deputy chief executive, Prof Gillian Leng, said: “We want all professionals to be aware and recognise when they need to ask questions or follow up with colleagues about a child’s wellbeing. Not all cases will cause concern but if we do not ask, we may miss opportunities to protect children in their time of need.
“I guess we can be a bit British and perhaps aren’t curious enough and think we shouldn’t ask the questions, so I guess it’s [the guideline] permission to be curious.”
source: The Guardian