[1st Allocated Day]

Part of Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:05 pm on 15th March 2021.

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Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee 8:05 pm, 15th March 2021

I welcome parts of this Bill, but there are glaring omissions, especially around violence against women and children. In Rotherham, and across the country, all too often victims and survivors of crime, especially sexual violence, lack confidence in the system, and this Bill was the opportunity to change that. There are far too many instances where sentencing is too lenient, or indeed where predatory or violent behaviours are not even criminalised.

I am relieved that the Government are finally reintroducing pre-charge bail conditions. Removing them in 2017 led to survivors living in fear of reprisals from their abusers. I also very much welcome the fact that the Government are finally bringing forward the “positions of trust” provisions that make it illegal for faith leaders and sports coaches to have sex with 16 and 17-year-olds in their care. However, the Government need to extend this law to cover the likes of driving instructors, youth workers, police officers and private tutors.

I am pleased about the progress on extending the offence of arranging or facilitating the commission of a child sex offence to include the rape and abuse of a child, and on stronger sentences for commensurate harm. However, the Bill must be strengthened to address online sexual exploitation. Aggravating factors must be included, as has been done in Australia, when it comes to sentencing. The Bill should be amended to state that approaching a person with regard to child sexual offences also specifically includes doing so online or via other telecommunications.

The provisions on the establishment of a list of countries considered to be at high risk of child sexual exploitation or abuse by UK nationals need to include countries that are at risk from UK citizens who commit abhorrent crimes online. Too often, I hear of UK nationals remotely directing abuse of, often, Filipino children from their own homes. Currently, there is a loophole in the law whereby a registered sex offender can change their name through deed poll and then go under the radar of the authorities. Alarmingly, I recently uncovered the fact that over 16,000 sex offenders breached their notification requirements in the past five years, which means that they disappeared from the system set up to monitor them.

Finally, I am astounded that while the Bill makes several changes to procedures in courts and tribunals, the Government have not used it as an opportunity to further improve support for victims and witnesses of sexual abuse.

Tragic events of the past week have shown just how important this Bill is. For too long, abuse, and particularly violence against women and girls, has gone on unchecked and survivors have been left to deal with a system that is not only not working but often making their situation worse. Crimes against women often specifically occur because they are women. These crimes are not gender neutral, so the law should not be either. We must consider a definition in terms of making misogyny a hate crime.