Anger over Home Secretary's lack of response to sex abuse campaigner

Theresa May

Theresa May

First published in News The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Parliamentary Correspondent

THE Home Secretary has been accused of ignoring a campaign by a North-East woman to prevent the sexual exploitation of children.

Kerry Bouskill, from Stockton-on-Tees, is involved in a project called ‘Childhood Lost’, which has urged ministers to adopt a six-step crackdown.

The campaign follows recent court cases that exposed how violent gangs groomed and abused children in Rochdale, Oxford, Peterborough and elsewhere.

Childhood Lost warns that “thousands of vulnerable children across the UK are being cynically targeted, groomed and subjected to appalling sexual abuse”.

In October, Ms Bouskill’s MP – Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham – wrote to the Home Secretary to ask what the Government planned to do.

But – more than three months on – Theresa May has failed to reply, despite numerous assurances that a response was on its way.

Now Mr Cunningham has written again and raised the issue in the House of Commons to protest at the Home Office dragging its heels.

The Labour MP said: “My constituent, Kerry Bouskill, is concerned about young people reporting abuse often not being believed and how that can be a deterrent.

“The question on behalf of my constituent was simple enough - will the Home Secretary outline the steps taken by the Government to strengthen child protection?”

In the letter, Mr Cunningham added: “When police and local authorities suspect abuse is happening, they often lack the tools and powers needed to stop it.

“The role that hotels and B&Bs have played in many grooming and abuse cases is just one example. Equally alarmingly, children are frequently re-traumatised when they seek justice.

“Many are accused of lying on the witness stand, or are forced to confront their abusers in court, and are too often left without the specialist help they need afterwards.”

In reply to the MP, Speaker John Bercow criticised the delay, saying: “He has certainly waited an inordinately long time for a response to his inquiries.”

Childhood Lost wants the Government to:

* Introduce new child sexual abuse prevention orders, to allow the police to act quickly.

* Set up the specialist child sexual exploitation centres needed, to identify and protect victims.

* Give judges clear guidance on sentencing complex child sexual exploitation cases.

* Reform courts so very vulnerable witnesses in child sexual abuse cases are not traumatised by giving evidence.

* Give the Education Secretary the power to order the publication of serious case reviews.

* End the ‘postcode lottery’ of support for victims of child sexual exploitation.

The Home Office has announced new ‘sexual risk orders’, allowing the police to act against anyone deemed to pose a risk to children – even if they have not been convicted.

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