TOUGHER laws are needed to protect children from sexual exploitation in the wake of the child grooming scandal which has engulfed South Yorkshire, a report warns today.
A study published this morning by Rotherham MP Sarah Champion and children’s charity Barnardo’s is calling for urgent action to close a “legal loophole” which would allow police to step in sooner if they suspect a child is being groomed for sex.
The report calls for a change in the law to make it easier for police to arrest suspects for “meeting a child following sexual grooming”, and says child abduction warning notices must also be strengthened.
It also calls for extra powers for safeguarding children’s boards – local bodies run by police and councils to protect vulnerable youngsters – and better training for judges, lawyers and jurors involved in child sex exploitation cases.
The report says the term child prostitution should be removed from all existing legislation in recognition that young people are victims rather than in any way responsible for their plight.
Ms Champion, a Labour MP, has been leading a backbench inquiry into child sex exploitation following widespread concern about attacks on girls as young as 10 in Rotherham.
“Through this inquiry we have shone a light on child sexual exploitation,” she said. “We wanted to know what we as a society are doing right and where we are failing those who fall victim to this terrible crime.
“During the inquiry we heard a great deal of compelling and heart-rending evidence and I would like to thank all those who contributed.
“We have set out a number of legislative suggestions that we believe will improve the way child sexual exploitation is tackled in this country. I implore the Government and other relevant authorities to look closely at our recommendations.”
Ms Champion said she travelled around the country during the course of their inquiry to interview victims of child sex exploitation and stressed the problem is not restricted to a number of small towns such as Rotherham.
“Unfortunately, I think it’s much bigger than that,” she told The Yorkshire Post.
“What we’re trying to say is this is going on everywhere, and it’s too easy just to say it’s a problem in Rochdale or Rotherham or wherever.
“It is convenient for people to think it’s happening in just a certain area or to a certain type of person – but it cuts across all classes, all races, all parts of the country.”