Young people who are exploited often come into contact with police under suspicion of having a committed a crime, but their status as victims can go unnoticed, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children (APPGC) found.
Child sexual abuse victims are often repeatedly quizzed by police officers for the same information, leading to fears they are not being believed, the APPGC said. Following an 18-month inquiry into the relationship between police and children, the APPGC concluded there is a lack of trust in the police among many young people, with some children fearing officers.
Conservative MP Tim Loughton, one of the vice-chairs of APPGC, said: “This report is a real eye opener for the problems we still have in getting better relations and understanding between police and young people.
“At a time when headlines are dominated by young victims of child abuse being failed by police in places like Rotherham, where the abuse was not taken seriously, it is more essential than ever that we have a much better position of trust between the police and our young vulnerable citizens.
“That must be in everyone’s interest and whilst we found some examples of good practice, clearly more needs to be done to make good practice common-place across the country.
“Our children and young people deserve nothing less.”
The report is published as police forces including South Yorkshire and Greater Manchester face greater scrutiny over their handling of sexual abuse cases in the wake of damning reports and claims that widespread exploitation of children was effectively ignored by police officers for years.
A 49-page report from the APPGC said children who have been trafficked or who have been victims of sexual exploitation commit crime to survive, such as stealing food or money when fleeing from abusers. Offending can often be a key indicator of sexual exploitation, the group heard.
“However, when these children come to the attention of the police under suspicion of having committed an offence, their status as victims can go unnoticed,” the report said.
“Unfortunately, the inquiry heard that the police response to CSE (child sexual exploitation) and trafficking victims was a ‘postcode lottery’, leading to very different experiences and outcomes for children nationally.”
The report said victims are often not told what will happen with the sensitive and personal information they provide to the police, which makes victims feel like they are not respected. Baroness Massey of Darwen, Labour chair of the group, said: “We were concerned to learn that those children who have been trafficked or suffered sexual abuse experience a ‘postcode lottery’ when it comes to the treatment they receive from the police.
“This, coupled with recent reporting of failures by police forces and other services to take action to tackle child sexual exploitation across the country, demonstrates the need to build a stronger foundation for policing with the best interests of children and young people at its heart.”
The inquiry found positive examples of police forces listening to and engaging with children and young people, treating them as ‘children first’ in aspects of the police process, the report said.