A change to the law will give children more protection from sexual abuse by making it easier to prosecute criminals who have had sex in front of children for gratification.

The tabled amendment will adjust offences at sections 11, 18, 32, 36 and 40 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.  According to the UK Government’s website this will:

“Criminalise sexual activity in the presence of a child or a person with a mental disorder, where the defendant engages in sexual activity in the child’s presence for the purposes of obtaining sexual gratification but does not know, intend or believe the child is aware that they are engaging in the sexual activity.”

How will the change to the Sexual Offences Act protect child victims of sexual abuse?

At present prosecution requires it to be proven that the defendant either knew the child involved was aware sexual activity was happening in their presence or the defendant had actively wanted them to be aware of the sexual activity in their presence.  This can be difficult for lawyers and the court, especially if the child involved is too young to give evidence. 

Under the amendment, there will no longer be a requirement to prove the defendant knew, believed, or intended for the child to be aware of sexual activity.  It also safeguards parents engaging in sexual activity if they share a bedroom with a young child.  The link between the child’s presence and the defendant’s own sexual gratification, however, will remain. 

The offence will instead rest on whether those engaging in sexual activity were exploiting the child’s presence for their own sexual gratification.  This is the reason many feel its passing will give children more protection against sexual abuse. 

The change has been welcomed by Laura Farris, Minister for Victims and Safeguarding:  

“We are criminalising these acts which exploit, humiliate and seriously harm children. It is unacceptable that any abuser has been able to take advantage of this this gap in the law to avoid prison in the past.  Our changes ensure that the law works effectively and that the right services are there to support child victims to rebuild their lives.”

This announcement comes on the back of the government’s plans to invest an additional £350,000 in conjunction with an  NSPCC campaign to further improve the support child victims of sexual abuse.  The campaign launched on 9th January.  It focuses on educating both the general public and professionals who work with children as to what the charity does in instances where child sexual abuse is reported.

This investment will be accompanied by another £90,000 for the Bluestar Project which will fund training for over 60 charities that provide pre-trial support to child victims and £270,000 for the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse.  This investment has been made to give the relevant bodies access to child sexual abuse data in their local area.  This will enable them to work out the demand for support services so they can find the required resource to meet that demand. 

If you or a client has been impacted by child abuse and you would like to discuss the case with one of our experienced criminal barristers, please contact our clerks today.

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