Tougher laws to protect children from sexual abuse announced by Home Secretary

Children will be better protected from sexual abuse under tougher laws being brought forward by the Home Secretary on Wednesday (February 21).

Feb 21, 2024
By Paul Jacques

Under these new plans, there will be a new legal requirement for those in regulated positions of responsibility, such as teachers and healthcare professionals, to report if they are made aware a child is being sexually abused.

Those who fail to report child sexual abuse that they are aware of, falling short of their legal duties, face being barred from working with young people.

Anyone who actively protects child sexual abusers – by intentionally blocking others from reporting, or by covering up the crime – could go to prison for seven years.

The police are also being given greater powers to stop registered sex offenders from changing their name if they think they still pose a risk to their communities.

By making mandatory reporting a legal requirement, the Government is delivering on a key recommendation in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report to protect children from harm and make sure authorities never again turn a blind eye to this crime.

Home Secretary James Cleverly said: “There is no excuse for turning a blind eye to a child’s pain.

“Having listened to the voices of victims and survivors and reviewed the work of the IICSA, we are working at pace to get a mandatory reporting duty for child sexual abuse onto the statute book.

“We’re also going further, equipping the police with more powers to prevent those who have committed abhorrent sexual crimes in the past from evading the police by changing their name.

“We will continue use all levers at our disposal to tackle this horrific crime and keep women and children safe.”

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for the management of violent and sexual offenders, Assistant Chief Constable Jonny Blackwell, said: “Managing the potential risk posed by registered sexual offenders within the community is a complex area of work for police and we work closely with partners as part of a multi-agency approach to manage these offenders every day”.

“UK policing has some of the most advanced and stringent tools in the world to manage registered sex offenders, however we will always seek innovative ways to continue to keep up with the changing world we work in.

“Any new restrictions which enable us to more effectively manage the risk posed by offenders to the public are welcome.”

Under the proposed changes, police will be able to issue a notice to sex offenders who continue to spark concern blocking them from changing or attempting to change their name on official documents such as passports and driving licences without their approval.

Minister for Victims and Safeguarding Laura Farris said: “This Government has introduced robust legislation for protecting children. But we know children were failed in the past, and that’s why we commissioned the IICSA.

“By bringing into force a mandatory duty to report child sexual abuse – the Inquiry’s principal recommendation – we are sending a clear message that children will never be let down whether in schools, sports settings or any supervised environment.

“As someone who worked on the Inquiry before coming into politics this is personal to me. We will continue to support the police in the toughest crack down on anyone who poses a risk to children.”

Gabrielle Shaw, chief executive for The National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said these “important measures” will improve safeguarding of children and increase accountability among those who have a duty of care.

“The introduction of mandatory reporting is a big step in the right direction, which must be implemented alongside an approach that prioritises the wellbeing of the child and ensures they have access to ongoing, specialist support,” she said. “This will require investment in training requirements, wider supporting structures and effective tracking and review.”

Chair of the IICSA, Professor Alexis Jay OBE said: “I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement that measures to introduce Mandatory Reporting will be included in the Criminal Justice Bill. I look forward to working with the Home Secretary on the detail of this as the Bill progresses.”

Alan Collins, partner in the sex abuse team at Hugh James law firm, said the announcement is welcome and “long overdue” as mandatory reporting of child abuse is a much needed requirement in the child protection fight.

“However, sadly, this is a missed opportunity because the Government proposals are weak and are likely to be ineffectual,” he said.

“Regarding the proposal to ban sex offenders from changing their names, there is nothing to stop anyone from changing their name or using any name that they like. We know that many sex offenders have fallen off the radar by being able to easily change their name. Making it a crime to do so is only a partial deterrent. If the offender thinks he/she will get away with sexually abusing children by changing their name, they will not be dissuaded from committing such a crime.

“There is no 100 per cent solution, but one suggestion would be to make it practically more difficult to change a name by registering the offender using their National Insurance number, which never changes. Claiming benefits and so on would then become much more difficult if the offender wishes to stay off the radar, as they could be traced.”

Mr Collins added: “Regarding mandatory reporting, again, this proposal is weak. The whole purpose of mandatory reporting is to drive cultural change so that suspicions and concerns are reported. It would be very unusual (if not unique) for a professional to have witnessed child sex abuse. It is the concern that needs to be reported.

“Time and again we have seen offences committed because concerns were not reported. It would be complacent to think that social services and the teaching profession have got their act together. They might be better trained, but that is far from the point. We see through all the tragic child murders a trail of failed opportunities because concerns were not acted upon.

“Unless you have a requirement to report concerns – as opposed to knowing a child has been abused – we are not going to see the cultural change that is needed.

“To be very cynical, this ties in with the Victims Bill which explicitly excludes accountability for failure on the part of the State. I wonder whether there is a concern that the politicians who have responsibilities in child protection fear being held accountable for the failures of the social services departments? Just look at Rochdale, Rotherham and the like.”

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