Backbench Business — Sexual Exploitation: Protection of 16 and 17-year-olds

Part of Bill Presented — Marriage Registration Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:29 pm on 17th December 2015.

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Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden 2:29 pm, 17th December 2015

In the light of the restriction on time and a desire to allow everybody to make a contribution, I would like to concentrate my remarks on this very sad subject on the incredible work done by the WISH Centre in helping the victims of sexual exploitation. I was delighted to open its new centre in Merton just a few weeks ago, extending its pre-existing site in Harrow. The centre is already having a wonderful impact on my local community. The centre’s work is made possible by funding from Comic Relief and is supported by its excellent director, Rowena Jaber. I am indebted to my friend Michael Foster for making me aware of the work of the centre and allowing me to work on bringing it to my area.

Having the courage to speak out after sexual abuse is the beginning of a long journey, but there is a terrible shortfall in therapeutic support for children who are victims. We need at least another 55,000 clinical therapeutic support places to make sure that all children who have displayed suicidal or self-harming behaviour receive this vital support. The provision of non-clinical early support is inadequate, even though such early intervention has been proven to be cost-effective, particularly when a child enters the criminal justice system.

That is why institutions like the WISH Centre are so important. The centre has been supporting those who have suffered from sexual abuse on the road to recovery for over 10 years. It specialises in support for those who self-harm, but it works extensively with young people who have experienced sexual abuse. This is because self-harm is a key indicator of sexual violence and abuse, as young victims struggle to cope with the trauma of their experience.

The centre has a tremendous history of success. In the past year, the centre supported over 220 young people on a long-term basis—mainly female and mainly from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities—recording an 89% increase in safety from sexual exploitation and abuse. The emphasis on BAME communities is particularly welcome, given the different problems around the reporting of child sexual abuse in some communities. There are a number of commendable ways in which the WISH Centre supports young people. It has an independent sexual violence advocacy service for young people who have experienced current or historical sexual violence, including rape, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, gang-related sexual violence and child sexual abuse. This confidential, emotional and practical support helps young people to understand how the criminal justice process works and explains what will happen if they report crimes to the police.

The centre also works very closely with schools, so they are immediately notified on anything they need to act on regarding a vulnerable young person. It builds connections between schools, social services and the police to raise awareness. This is very important because a staggering proportion of young people still believe that if a teenager is too drunk or high to give sexual consent to sex, the sexual act is not rape, according to them.