11:24, October 03 47 0 theguardian.com

2017-10-03 11:24:04
Police chiefs back calls for UK law to protect grooming victims

Calls for child sexual abuse victims to be pardoned for crimes they committed while being groomed have been backed by police chiefs and England’s children’s commissioner.

Sammy Woodhouse, who was abused by a gang in Rotherham, said the fear of being prosecuted was stopping victims coming forward and preventing survivors from moving on with their lives.

As a 14-year-old, Woodhouse was coerced into committing crime, including assault and possessing an offensive weapon, by a notorious gang leader who was jailed last year for abusing her.

She said: “For people like me, who were prosecuted as exploited children, we now have to disclose our abuse at job interviewers to explain our criminal records.

“This is extremely upsetting for victims and survivors – and a constant reminder of our past when we are simply trying to move forward and have a future. More often than not it prevents us from becoming employed to help rebuild our lives.”

Woodhouse’s campaign for a “Sammy’s law” has now been backed by senior figures including the chief constables of South Yorkshire and Bedfordshire police forces, the director of children’s services at Rotherham borough council, and England’s children’s commissioner Anne Longfield.

Longfield, whose role is appointed by the government, said on Monday the rule change would make a “huge difference to vulnerable young people who are trying to rebuild their lives”.

Woodhouse has written to the home secretary to request a meeting about implementing Sammy’s law. In the letter to Amber Rudd, she said: “Sammy’s law will not only encourage others to come forward and report abuse but it will enable survivors of CSE [child sexual exploitation] to finally move forward and have a future.

“I feel until this is done, I and others will continue to be being blamed for the horrendous and traumatic experiences we endured as children. This cannot be right.”

Stephen Watson, the South Yorkshire police chief constable, and the area’s police and crime commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, said in a letter to Woodhouse they were in favour of her campaign.

They said: “We believe that the concept of ‘Sammy’s law’ would provide vital reassurance to victims and survivors that the abuse they suffered in the past will not continue to impact their future.”

Jon Boutcher, chief constable of Bedfordshire police, told Sky News he fully supported the proposed law: “I think policing is about sensible, pragmatic ways of doing things. If this was a member of my family, or this was someone who I knew, I would hope common sense would prevail.

“Sammy’s story is very powerful – she is the victim in this; she is not the offender. If we get more victims coming forward – so that officers can go after those offenders, and get the evidence against them to put them behind bars – then that works for me.”

The Home Office said Woodhouse was “a victim of vile abuse and she has shown tremendous strength and courage in speaking out”. It said it would consider her case and respond to her directly.