I am pleased to hear that, ahead of next week’s LGA Annual Conference, council leaders have called for disruption orders to be included in the upcoming Policing and Criminal Justice Bill.
The idea behind disruption orders is to allow councils to intervene when a parent, a police officer or a social worker fear that a child is being groomed for sexual exploitation.
Tragically, it is often the case that vulnerable children are at serious risk of being abused because authorities are powerless to intervene. Parents who notice signs that their child is being groomed could report the matter to their local council’s child protection officer – but, in the absence of a criminal offence being committed, the council can’t do anything about it.
The Rochdale grooming scandal and recent reports about young girls being trapped in gangs and at serious risk of abuse by male gang members highlight how important it is for councils to be able to react as early as possible to warning signs and help prevent the grooming of a child developing into more serious abuse.
How Disruption Orders Could Protect Vulnerable Children
Child sexual exploitation disruption orders would aim to put a safe distance between children and the people suspected of grooming them.
Where there are reasonable grounds to believe that someone is attempting to enter into a sexual relationship with a child, a court could issue a disruption order, preventing the person suspected of grooming from having any contact with the child.
The disruption orders would work in a similar way to Domestic Violence Protection Orders in that they can restrict a person’s activity in the best interests of a person at risk of abuse. Victims would not need to give evidence when the court hears an application for a disruption order, and the breach of the order would be a criminal offence.
Early Intervention of Suspected Child Sex Abuse is Vital
In their enquiry into child sexual exploitation, the Office of the Children's Commissioner found that, in just over a 12-month period, 2,409 children were being groomed by gangs – equivalent to the pupil population of three secondary schools.
Grooming of vulnerable young girls by gangs is a growing problem and one method of tackling the issue has been the introduction of gang injunctions, designed to restrict a gang member’s activity and to keep them safe from harm. The injunctions, however, place too much emphasis on the victim rather than the perpetrator and I’m concerned that they could stop people reporting abuse that they have suffered.
Often girl gang members, whilst they might appear to be ‘consenting’, are actually motivated by serious fears or violence against them. The main goal in helping prevent the abuse of these vulnerable young women is to crack down on the perpetrators of abuse – and I would certainly welcome the introduction of child sexual exploitation disruption orders as they are designed purely with the protection of abuse victims in mind.
Richard Scorer is Head of the Abuse Team at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.
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