Seriously Awkward – an update from The Children’s Society

We are pleased to bring you the latest blog from The Children’s Society on their Seriously Awkward campaign…

Stand up for children’s rights
Because of legal inconsistencies there is a dangerous lack of understanding about how situations where 16 and 17 year olds are being coerced or groomed into sex constitutes child sexual exploitation. Far too often, older teenagers are not seen as victims, left without support and are unable to bring perpetrators to justice. It’s not just awkward, it’s serious – and it has to change. Back in December, we asked for your support when The Children’s Society’s Seriously Awkward campaign was being debated in Parliament – your support helped make sure the issues facing 16 and 17 year olds were discussed in detail by MPs at this debate. Since then, the Government has introduced a bill (called the Policing and Crime Bill) which means there’s now an opportunity to get the changes the campaign is calling for put into law. With the help of almost 30,000 campaigners, The Children’s Society has been working hard to influence the bill at every step as it passes through Parliament. There’s been encouraging responses from Ministers and The Children’s Society is optimistic about making real change for these vulnerable young people. Clare Bracey, Director of Campaigns at The Children’s Society explains why now your help is needed to pressure the Government into recognising the rights of vulnerable older teenagers…

Unreported and unpunished

In the past year, we calculate that there were more than 40,000 reported crimes of a sexual nature committed against children and young people. We also know that huge numbers of sexual offences against both boys and girls continue to go unreported and unpunished.
How should we respond?
The numbers of sexual crimes committed against children and young people are shocking and show the scale of need across the country. Currently in Parliament, we are seeking changes to the law to enhance both the protection available for victims of sexual crimes and the tools available to police to prevent these crimes happening in the first place.
We are working on two changes to the law:
1. The first change is about prevention: Currently 16 and 17 year olds do not receive the same protection as younger children because of their age but we know, through the young people we support, that some 16 and 17 year olds can be extremely vulnerable. This change would allow the police to use a ‘Child Abduction Warning Notice’ to protect vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds from exploitation. These warning notices are useful in preventing sexual exploitation but they can currently only be used on younger children and a very small minority of 16 and 17 year olds.

2. The second change is about supporting victims: So many victims of sexual offences suffer from poor mental health as they struggle to understand what has happened to them and how to regain some normality in their lives. This change would put a duty on police forces to share information about every child victim of a sexual offence with local mental health services to ensure that every victim has a clear and guaranteed pathway to mental health support.
Watch our video on the changes we are calling for here.
You can help
The recent referendum has created a period of political and economic uncertainty. Over the coming weeks and months The Children’s Society will be working to make sure protections and rights for children and young people are upheld.
The next step for the Seriously Awkward campaign is for the Joint Committee on Human Rights – a group of cross party MPs and Lords who scrutinise all government bills – to examine the Policing and Crime Bill, looking specifically at the significant human rights implications of this bill becoming law.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that every child up to the age of 18 should be protected from abuse and exploitation. However 16 and 17 year olds in the UK are not getting the same protection from sexual exploitation as younger children. We believe this is a clear breach of their rights.
Together, we need to urge the committee to make the case to the Government for the rights of 16 and 17 year olds to be protected.
Take action now by telling us why you’re standing up for the rights of vulnerable older teenagers.

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