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Remember they are children

Girl

At the end of February 2013 we launched our Remember they are children campaign and asked people to sign a petition to get better justice for sexually exploited children.

We received over 30,000 signatures in support of our petition which stated that our legal system needs to Remember they are children and that no child can ever truly agree to being sexually exploited.

On the 6 March 2013 whilst our petition was live the Director of Public Prosecutions announced new guidelines that will give young victims of abuse and sexual exploitation greater confidence in coming forward. This showed again how important our petition was.

The petition is now closed but you can still campaign with us in the future – sign up here.

Why we petitioned on this issue?

Children who are sexually exploited tell our services that people’s perceptions of them mean they are either not believed or they are made to think that the sexual exploitation is their fault.

This can be because:

  • they look mature for their age.
  • their behaviour is seen as difficult, or
  • they have had sex at a young age and so are seen as sexually mature or ‘streetwise’.

If these factors are considered in a courtroom, it can result in the abuse of sexual exploitation being seen as a less serious crime. Additionally, the victim can be left thinking they are to blame.

We believe that – whatever a child’s behaviour or however old they look – this can never justify them being exploited for sex. That is why it is vital we remember that they are children and that no child can ever truly agree to be sexually exploited.

What is sexual exploitation?

Sexual exploitation is when someone under 18 is groomed, coerced or manipulated into sexual activity. A young person may have sex because they are tricked into it by someone, often older than them, who promises them love and security or who buys them lavish gifts. Often the young person trusts their exploiter because of their age, but this trust is abused and the young person left hurt and vulnerable.

Lucy's Story

"My name is Lucy. I’m a character that has been created to protect the identity of the real children’s stories I’m going to represent.

I’m 13, but my story has happened to children younger and older than me.

I went to court because I had a chance to see the man who sexually exploited me punished for what he’d done. But in the courtroom I was made to feel like the abuse I experienced was my fault.

They said that because I look mature for my age, men could easily think I was old enough to have sex.  

They also said that I seduced him! That I agreed to it all. But I only had sex because he tricked me into it, promising to care for me. I trusted him because he was older but he abused my trust and hurt me.

Why couldn’t the court remember that I’m a child and I can never truly agree to being sexually exploited?"

What is this campaign trying to achieve?

Legal guidance currently allows children to be treated in the way that Lucy’s story describes. But it is under review - this was our chance to change it. We want to make sure the new guidance recommends that our legal system treats victims in child sexual exploitation cases as children. If the legal guidance does recommend this, it will help judges to remove perceptions they may have about the young person in their courtroom, and treat them as a child.

Who will receive our petition?

Our petition was sent to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales who is the head of the judiciary and well known within the legal system.

Who can sign the petition?

Unfortunately our petition has now closed but you can sign up to campaign with us in the future.

Does the campaign cover the UK?

The legal guidance our petition aims to change covers England and Wales.

Where can you get more information?

If you want to know more about the petition you can email campaigns@barnardos.org.uk or call the Campaigns Team via 020 8550 8822.