Child sex exploitation: suddenly, it’s everywhere. Police, social services, politicians and the public are doing everything they can to protect young people involved in this terrible world. But is the law strong enough to protect them?
AB was seventeen years old, and was being preyed on by a group of at least ten Asian men, much older than her. She had had a difficult childhood and it took her some years to recognise she was the victim of child sex exploitation. Birmingham social services, the police and the courts tried to help her by providing different kinds of accommodation. Sometimes, she was kept in secure accommodation so that she could not leave, even if she wanted to. She would regularly disappear, however, for days and nights on end, and would be seen, intoxicated, with various different Asian men, getting in and of their cars. When she was sixteen, she told the police that she had been sexually exploited as a fourteen year old.
Things got worse. In an ideal world, there would have been enough evidence to send these men to prison. But there needs to be really strong evidence of guilt to send anyone to prison – the guilt must be beyond reasonable doubt. There was not enough evidence to send the men to prison, so the judge used the civil law as it had never been used before. He made court orders against all ten men which prevented them seeing or contacting AB, or any other woman under 18, or inciting anyone else to do so. And he made sure they could be reported in the media, as the rights of the children being exploited outweighed the privacy rights of the men.
What can we learn from this case? The law doesn’t always keep pace with changes in society. But, with a creative judge, it can be used in powerful ways to protect people who urgently need to be protected.