Last week, I spoke in Parliament about the Government’s mistreatment of victims of child sexual exploitation (CSE) who are being forced to disclose criminal convictions linked to their abuse.
CSE victims are often forced to commit crimes by their adult abusers and may then be convicted of these crimes. Punitive rules mean that those victims are forced to tell employers and even local parent teacher associations about such criminal convictions.
It cannot be right that CSE survivors are treated in this way and forced to live with the consequences of their exploitation for the rest of their lives. Child sexual exploitation is fundamentally about an imbalance of power that is used to coerce, manipulate and deceive. The Government should not be punishing victims of abuse for crimes they committed because of their exploitation.
In recent months, I’ve been working with Sammy Woodhouse, who is a victim of CSE, to campaign for greater protections for abuse survivors. When Sammy was 15, the police raided the property of now-convicted serial rapist Arshid Hussain. Sammy was half-naked and hiding under his bed. Hussain was not detained, but Sammy was arrested and charged.
She was a victim of exploitation but, nevertheless, is now forced to disclose her criminal convictions.
Judges in the High Court have already ruled that forcing victims of CSE to disclose past convictions linked to CSE is unjust. They argued that, “any link between the past offending, and the assessment of present risk in a particular employment, is either non-existent or at best extremely tenuous.”
I’m calling on the Government to bring forward what is known as Sammy’s law, which would give CSE victims the right to have their criminal records automatically reviewed, and crimes associated with their grooming removed.
At present, anyone has the right to apply to the chief constable of their force area to have their records reviewed, but it is little known.
Sammy, and victims like her, have been repeatedly failed by the state. They were failed by our legal system, by the police, by the Crown Prosecution Service, by local authorities and by Government at every level.
The Government must now ensure that the state no longer fails CSE survivors. Sammy’s law would help to achieve that.