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Clampdown on Child Abuse as a Gap in the Law Closed

Children will be better protected from sexual abuse following change to the law making it easier to prosecute criminals who have had sex in front of children for gratification

Clampdown on Child Abuse as a Gap in the Law Closed
Clampdown on Child Abuse as a Gap in the Law Closed
  • law change will make it easier to prosecute sex in the presence of a child

  • government amends Criminal Justice Bill passing through Commons

  • follows further government funding and launch of NSPCC campaign

An amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill will remove the need to prove that the perpetrators knew, believed, or intended that the child was aware. Instead, the offence will focus on whether they are exploiting the child’s presence for their own sexual gratification, ensuring that convictions will no longer be missed. 

Minister for Victims and Safeguarding Laura Farris said:  

We are criminalising these acts which exploit, humiliate and seriously harm children. It is unacceptable that any abuser has been able to take advantage of this this gap in the law to avoid prison in the past.  Our changes ensure that the law works effectively and that the right services are there to support child victims to rebuild their lives,

An extra £350,000 is also being invested to further improve support for child victims of sexual abuse on the back of the NSPCC campaign to encourage more reporting of abuse. 

The government-funded campaign which launched last week (9 January 2024) is part of the government’s response to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. It targets the general public and professionals who work with children in order to boost awareness of what to do if they are concerned about child sexual abuse.  

The government is also investing almost £90,000 in the Bluestar Project run by the Green House to ensure children who are victims of sexual abuse receive the best support possible. This will fund training for over 60 Ministry of Justice-funded charities across the country in how to provide pre-trial support to child victims.  

A further £270,000 has also been allocated to the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse to improve the provision of services to victims of child sexual abuse. Activities will include a directory of support services and a data hub. This will enable commissioners to have instant access to child sexual abuse data in their local area to assess the demand for support services and allocate resources. 

Notes to Editors 

  • The tabled amendment would amend offences at sections 11, 18, 32, 36 and 40 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to criminalise sexual activity in the presence of a child or a person with a mental disorder, where the defendant engages in sexual activity in the child’s presence for the purposes of obtaining sexual gratification but does not know, intend or believe the child is aware that they are engaging in the sexual activity.

  • Currently the law in this area hinges on whether the defendant knew or believed that child was aware of sexual activity in their presence, or if the defendant intended them to be aware of it. However, proving this belief, knowledge or intention can be problematic in some cases, particularly when the child involved is too young to give evidence.

  • Instead, the amendment will mean that the offences will no longer require the defendant to know, believe or intend that the child is aware of the sexual activity but retains the link between the fact of the child’s presence and the defendant’s own sexual gratification.

  • This change avoids inadvertently criminalising sexual activity between parents who share a bedroom with a young child.

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