Child Abuse Offences (Sentencing) — [Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:24 pm on 13th March 2017.

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Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 5:24 pm, 13th March 2017

I am very happy to talk about that. We are undertaking a comprehensive piece of work in the Home Office with experts, academics, law enforcement officers and some particularly good charities that have a good track record, to ensure that young people understand what consent is, what good relationships are and what the law of the land is. We have seen reports about the amount of sex offending committed by young people against other young people. The very tragic case that we are talking about today involved an older person who perpetrated a terrible crime against a child, but there is a growing category of younger people who commit appalling abuse—even rape—against children younger than themselves. We are doing a lot of work to educate young people that that is simply wrong and about what good relationships look like. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, the association for personal, social and health and economic education—the PSHE Association—and the Department for Education have developed extremely good tools to enable teachers, parents and youth workers to engage young people.

I expect that people have seen Disrespect NoBody, a large campaign that the Home Office funds every year. It uses material developed by children that they can see online on their phones and iPads to get those messages across. We work with young people to develop age-appropriate messages, and campaigns are thoroughly evaluated to ensure that they are having the right effect. Now that sex and relationship education and PSHE are to be compulsory, there will be even further opportunity to send that message to everyone.

We know that a lot of young men view images of young girls online, but that they do not realise that what they are doing is illegal. They seem to think that it is a victimless crime. They do not appreciate that a girl is being abused to make those images, that every time someone watches them she is being re-abused, and how devastating that is. We have worked with experts in the field to make hard-hitting little films that are put out on the internet to communicate to young men—I am afraid that it is young men—who might be tempted to view that material or who might inadvertently come across it. The films are to educate them about the harm and to prevent them from becoming criminals—if they were caught, they would be convicted of a criminal offence and go on the sex offenders register, which would have a devastating effect on their life.

We are working with the Lucy Faithfull Foundation. Where we know perpetrators are watching images, we want to send out clear messages that they are illegal, and about the harm they are doing. We want to give them access to helplines where they can get advice on how to wean themselves off their addiction—it is an addiction. We also fund care and support services for the perpetrators, enabling them to say, “I want to stop this behaviour but I need help to do it.”

That is all new and emerging work. It is important to build up the evidence base on its effectiveness, so that we understand what works, what does not, the risk profile of the perpetrators, and who can be diverted or prevented from behaviour escalating into contact abuse. We take that seriously and invest in it, and we want to leave no stone unturned in preventing people from watching those dreadful images and all the abuse that goes with them. I hope that that is a full answer for the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North.

Some hon. Members mentioned the comments of Chief Constable Simon Bailey. As politicians, none of us is a stranger to being misquoted, or having our quotes being taken out of context so that we do not say everything we would want. That is what happened to the chief constable in this case. It was helpful for the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee to write to ask him about some of the comments he made and the media published. My understanding is that he has written back a full response, which will be published on the Select Committee’s website. The chief constable does not need me to speak for him—he is more than capable of speaking for himself—and it is important for Members to read what he has to say. He might be appearing before the Select Committee, when Committee members will have further opportunity to ask him about what he said so that there is absolute clarity.

I can assure the House, however, that the Government’s policy has not changed. As we have discussed today, issues to do with sex offenders are complicated and contentious, but our position is crystal clear and unequivocal: we will reduce the harm to children and other vulnerable people; we will continue to protect the public; and we will keep dangerous people on the sex offenders register for as long as they are a risk. I am proud of the progress we are making to tackle all aspects of violence against women and girls and to protect all victims, but the truly terrible murder of April Jones highlights how much all of us need to do to protect victims. In my time as Minister, I am determined to do absolutely everything I can to protect people in our country and to bring those perpetrators to justice.