The Government attach the highest priority to tackling child sexual exploitation and abuse, declaring it a national threat and investing significantly in law enforcement capacity to transform the police response. Last year’s “Tackling child sexual exploitation” progress report announced a £40 million package of measures to protect children and young people from sexual abuse and exploitation, and to crack down on offenders.
I thank the Minister for her response. Child sexual exploitation victims often struggle to get justice. What steps will she take to ensure that the police identify grooming and child sexual exploitation, and that they do not mistake those serious crimes for consensual sex?
I know that my hon. Friend is pursuing this campaign with great vigour. We have provided £1.9 million to the College of Policing to develop a training package for first responders to vulnerable people. The package teaches the importance of applying professional judgment when identifying signs of issues such as grooming, and police guidance makes it clear that sexual grooming and sexual communication with a child are offences in their own right.
Will the Minister also acknowledge that the grooming of children can lead to young people over the age of 16 being raped, whether or not so-called consent is given, as the manipulation has already been sustained while the young person was under 16? Will she look into changing the law in this area so that prosecutions can be brought?
Every case has to be judged on its own facts, but I would hope that any police investigation—and, indeed, any prosecution—would reflect any history of grooming when the case came before a judge and jury. If the hon. Lady wishes to refer a particular case to me, I will of course be delighted to review it.
I do. I cannot comment on a specific individual, but we are clear that child exploitation is illegal and that it must be, and will be, tackled by the police and the criminal justice system.
The Minister might be aware that I have raised with her colleague, the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, the fact that if the child protection information sharing project were able to keep details of vulnerable mothers-to-be as well as of children, Poppi Worthington would have been known to social services before she died. Has the Minister had time to consider this shortcoming, and will she put it right?
I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss that important point. We are clear that there needs to be better information sharing between the various agencies involved, to prevent very sad cases such as the one that he has raised.
We all acknowledge that child sexual exploitation can often be a consequence of county lines, but the limited awareness of the signs of it means that vulnerable children are often left to the mercy of their abusers. To improve identification, the emergency services need more support. What training and support are the Government providing to help them better recognise child victims of county lines exploitation?
As the hon. Lady knows, county lines is a policing priority. It is a major element of our serious violence strategy, precisely because we recognise the harm that it can cause not only through acts of violence among gang members but in the wider community. That is precisely why we have contributed £3.5 million towards a national co-ordination centre to help spread the message and the intelligence about county lines among police forces.