Seriously Awkward

Thank you for contacting me about protection for 16 and 17 year olds who have been victims of sexual abuse.

I fully agree that we must protect 16 and 17 year olds from the horrific crime of sexual abuse. Following the "Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation" report in March 2015, it is a requirement that all police officers are trained in responding to child sexual exploitation more effectively. The guidance has been revised, so that clear information about how to identify child abuse and neglect and what action to take is provided. The Government will publish a progress report on all actions taken following the "Tackling Child Sexual Exploitation" report early next year, and I look forward to scrutinising the results.

I agree that we need to send a very clear message to the perpetrators about how seriously the Government takes these crimes, and similarly our intent to deal with it. The courts will always consider a case more seriously when the victim is a child, and this includes in this context 16 or 17 year olds. The Sentencing Council's definitive guidance on sexual offences came into effect in April 2014, and it provides for the courts to sentence individuals more severely in cases where victims are particularly vulnerable, as will often be the case with sexual exploitation involving 16 or 17 year olds. Similarly the sentencing guidelines reflect that the use of alcohol or drugs in targeting a particularly vulnerable child is considered an aggravating factor. The law is clear that a young person's consent to take drugs or alcohol can never be viewed as consent to sexual acts.

I am particularly glad that the Government has commenced a major transformation programme which will improve the support provided to vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds who have experienced sexual abuse and are in need of mental health and wellbeing services. The programme will place the emphasis on prevention and early intervention, building care around the needs of children, young people and their families, including the most vulnerable.

The Policing and Crime Bill will ensure that the police and other law enforcement agencies have the powers they need to prevent and detect crime, and protect children and young people from sexual exploitation. For example the Bill will ensure that relevant offences in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 cover the live streaming of images of child sex abuse, and will also amend the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to ensure that 17-year-olds who are detained in police custody are treated as children for all purposes.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.