Important things to consider about disclosure of sexual exploitation
The importance of first disclosure
If your child discloses sexual offences against them to you, it is very important that you write down what they say as accurately as possible and record the time and date. This is because the person whom the child first disclosed abuse to is regarded as a crucial witness in any resulting trial. Police officers and the Crown Prosecution Service will request a statement on ‘first disclosure’, so include as much information as possible in your written notes.
If your child discloses rape or sexual assault to you, it is important to show that you believe them by listening calmly and actively and responding sensitively. Do not beat yourself up if you cry yourself – it is a natural response to witnessing your child’s distress. Once your child has indicated they have told you as much as they feel able, tell them again that you believe them. If the rape or sexual assault is recent, it is strongly advisable that you call the police, even if the child does not want you to. Remember you can also report information anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Disclosing to statutory services or the police
Best practice for achieving best evidence from young people would take place in a special off-site headquarters, with non-uniformed staff and through discreetly placed video cameras. Specially trained staff would agree on language the child wishes to use to identify body parts and activities, with the option to draw if verbal description becomes too difficult. This level of provision is not yet rolled out nationally, however, so you should be prepared for the following challenges:
- Your child may be repeatedly asked to revisit specific points, even if the child themselves do not view it as significant.
- The police may prefer a chronological account, which seems fixated on events leading up to the assault, rather than the assault. The witness may feel frustrated by this, as if they are constantly being drawn ‘off topic’.
Bear in mind that if your child is brave enough to disclose to the police, there are vast differences in the level of post-disclosure support available.
This can be problematic, as there can be considerable time lapse between the initial disclosure and a trial. However, your child will be given an opportunity to refresh their memory by watching their DVD interview or reading their statement before the trial. Remember that Pace staff are on hand to give support to you whilst you in turn support your child during this stressful time. Recent changes instigated by the 2013 review of the Crown Prosecution Service have led to more timely responses.