Children are not being taken seriously when they report violent and sexual crimes despite the recent inquiries into the Rotherham and Jimmy Savile abuse scandals, the Government’s victims tsar has warned.
Criminal justice agencies are at risk of failing youngsters who feel they are being let down by the system that is meant to protect them, according to Baroness Newlove.
The Victims’ Commissioner today publishes a review which finds that children and teenagers are made to feel like criminals themselves, accused of wasting police time or simply not believed.
Citing previous inquiries into the Rotherham and Jimmy Savile abuse scandals, the report says: “It seems that lessons are still not being learnt about believing young victims when they come forward and taking them seriously.”
Twelve girls aged between nine and 17, or their parents, were interviewed about the handling of reports of sexual or violent crimes.
Many of the children and their families did not feel they were treated with “dignity and respect”, with some feeling they were not believed nor taken seriously because of their age, the report found.
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.Baroness Newlove
They described feeling as if they had to “prove themselves”, with one reporting that she felt like “a test subject - a monkey in a cage to be prodded”.
Many of the youngsters who took part in the review felt they were not believed by police, social workers, teachers or by society as a whole and would be reluctant to report a crime if anything happened to them in the future.
Participants were also frustrated at a lack of information about the progress of their case, and on the whole they did not receive or were not informed about all of their entitlements under the Victims’ Code.
In one rape case a teenage girl was interviewed by male officers on three separate occasions despite asking for a woman officer each time, according to the report.
Baroness 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.”
Some areas of good practice were highlighted in the review. It found that most of the children had an adult with them when interviewed by police, and were informed about special measures to help them give evidence at court.
The report said the review “has a limited sample and as such the conclusions cannot necessarily be generalised to the whole population”.
Professor Alexis Jay’s 2014 inquiry into child sex abuse in Rotherham estimated that 1,400 children were sexually exploited in the town between 1997 and 2013.
The report demonstrated revealed that children were often disbelieved when reporting crime and described an embedded culture of not believing children and not doing enough to protect them from further harm.
It highlighted collective failures not only at an operational level, but also ‘collective failures’ of political and officer leadership across South Yorkshire Police and Rotherham Council.
A spokeswoman for the charity NSPCC said: “The review pulls into sharp focus how disgracefully our justice system continues to fail young witnesses.
“The bravery shown by young survivors of abuse in plucking up courage to relive their ordeals in court is not met with enough compassion or support.”