Child abuse specialist, Rachel Thain, welcomes the publication of new guidelines for prosecutors in child abuse cases
The Director of Public Prosecutions has published new guidelines for prosecutors. The guidelines are intended to help prosecutors minimise the trauma suffered by abuse victims during a criminal prosecution. It is also hoped this will increase the chances of securing a successful prosecution.
It is a year since the Jimmy Savile scandal hit the headlines; a case that has done so much to increase the public’s perception and understanding of child abuse. The issue of child abuse is now firmly on the nation’s agenda and at long last attitudes towards victims are improving . It is therefore important that our justice system evolves in line with these social changes.
The tremendous courage required for a young victim of abuse to speak out about their ordeal cannot be overestimated, given the profound psychological effect that such abuse has. Victims will experience a range of negative emotions, such as fear, confusion, shame and guilt, at a level many adults would struggle to deal with. Concern has been expressed that these children are often credited with poor credibility and their allegations are commonly treated with scepticism.
These new guidelines for prosecutors have therefore been warmly received. The focus is set to shift from considering whether the victim will make a good witness to looking at the credibility of the allegation being made. Many cases of child abuse fail at an early stage because of perceived weaknesses of the victim. This has seriously undermined their bravery in coming forward in the first place and is thought to have discouraged other victims from speaking out.
The new approach for prosecutors in child abuse cases has been formulated by professionals who are actively involved in protecting and dealing with vulnerable children. It is hoped young victims will be dealt with more sensitively in light of these new guidelines. Specialist Rape and Serious Sexual Offences Units are to be set up in each CPS area and the joint work and communication between prosecutors, the police, social services and schools is vital.
As more victims feel able to come forward and speak out about the abuse they have suffered, they should no longer face outdated stereotypes and preconceived assumptions as they seek to see their abuser brought to justice. These new guidelines are welcomed by the Slee Blackwell abuse team and it is to be hoped that further improvements to the justice system will follow.