Campaigning MP Ann Coffey will today (Tuesday January 6) table a series of amendments to the Serious Crime Bill to remove all references to child prostitution from legislation.
Ms Coffey said the term ‘child prostitute’ is an outdated insult to victims and that there has never been a better time than now to consign it to the history books in the wake of the shocking Rochdale and Rotherham cases.
She said: “There is no such thing as a child prostitute – only a sexually abused or exploited child.
“The term child prostitute is inappropriate and is an insult to innocent victims – who have been robbed of their childhood and then stigmatised and blamed.
“Britain should lead the world in outlawing this term.
“Language is important and the continued use of the term by the criminal justice system gives out the wrong message to those who are being abused; the adults who abuse them and to the general public.
“It is shameful to us all that the term child prostitute remains in law. It is an outdated insult to victims, many of who lives have been ruined. It is inappropriate; no one believes it any longer; it is plain wrong and it should go!”
As well as tabling amendments to outlaw the term child prostitute, Ms Coffey will also be tabling amendments that will make it much harder for defendants to argue consent in cases of child sexual exploitation. These will all be discussed in the Committee stage of the Bill this month.
During the second reading of the Serious Crime Bill in the Commons on Monday evening, Ms Coffey said there are currently 16 pieces of legislation that use the term ‘child prostitute,’ which implies an element of complicity and gives the idea of a consensual contract of a child offering sex in return for gifts or money.
Ms Coffey said it was “shameful” that the offence of loitering or soliciting for prostitution (contrary to section 1 of the Street Offences Act 1959, as amended by section 16 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009) can still be committed by a child aged 10 or over.
There is also the offence of ‘controlling a child prostitute or child involved in pornography’ in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and ‘causing or inciting child prostitution or pornography’.
All references to a child prostitute or prostitution would be substituted with “sexually exploited” or “sexual exploitation” by Ms Coffey’s amendments.
As recently as June this year, a Bolton man was charged by Greater Manchester police and found guilty of ‘controlling a child prostitute for financial gain’.
In October Ms Coffey published an independent report, ‘Real Voices – Child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester’, which said that child sexual exploitation had become a ‘social norm’ in some neighbourhoods.
One of the recommendations in her report was the removal of all references to child prostitution in legislation.
Ms Coffey said in recent years there has been a significant cultural shift away from talking about child prostitution to child protection and that removing references in law was the final piece of the jigsaw.
Only six years ago the sexual exploitation of children was still being referred to as child prostitution in statutory guidance. It was updated in 2009 and more appropriately entitled: ‘Safeguarding Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation.’
It said explicitly: “Children who are sexually exploited are the victims of sexual abuse and should be safeguarded from further harm. Sexually exploited children should not be regarded as criminals and the primary law enforcement response must be directed at perpetrators who groom children for sexual exploitation.”
However, although current CPS guidelines state that children should generally be treated as a victim of sexual abuse, it still adds and ‘only where there is a persistent and voluntary return to prostitution and where there is a genuine choice should a prosecution be considered.’
Because it used to be seen as child prostitution, the children were not seen as victims and their sexual abuse was seen as self-inflicted.
These attitudes were identified in the Rochdale Overview Report in December 2013. Social workers talked about the victims making ‘lifestyle choices’. One Rochdale father described being told by social workers that his daughter was a ‘child prostitute’.
Figures provided by the House of Commons library for the Real Voices report – show that between 1992 and 1996 there were 1,449 cautions – about 300 a year – for prostitution for under-18-year-olds and 976 court proceedings for loitering, or soliciting for the purposes of prostitution (Street Offences Act 1959).
In the past four years between 2010 and 2013 this had dropped to 15 cautions issued to juveniles under the age of 18 and seven defendants under the age of 18 were proceeded against. Of those seven defendants, three were found guilty but none were imprisoned.
Last year in 2013 there were five cautions for prostitution related offences for those aged 15-17 and two were proceeded against and found guilty. One received a £35 fine and the other a Youth Referral Order.
Ms Coffey said: “Although these figures show that attitudes are changing, it is wrong that we still have legislation referring to child prostitution on the statute books because of the message it sends out.
“Referring to a young person as a child prostitute fuels old fashioned attitudes that have done so much harm to children over the years because it feeds the idea that the child is in some way to blame for their own abuse.
“Language is important as it shapes attitudes. It is incongruous and wrong that it still remains in statute.
“I hope that there will be cross party support for amendments I am planning to table to this Bill which will consign the term child prostitution to the history books together with amendments that will make it much harder for defendants to argue consent in cases of child sexual exploitation.”