Posted: 18 December 2015

MPs discuss our Seriously Awkward campaign in parliament

We all woke up quite nervous yesterday. We also woke up quite tired – it’s been a long week! 1,834 campaigners have emailed their MPs, 15 individualised briefings had been written with enough content to help MPs speak about our work on the sexual exploitation of 16 and 17 year olds for two and a half hours, Twitter handles had been gathered and pictures to share on social media designed.

All this work was for one two and a half hour debate in parliament. This debate saw MPs discuss our ‘Old enough to know better?’ report and our Seriously Awkward campaign, both of which are focussed on increasing support for the most vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds in the country. And it was the best opportunity the campaign has had so far to draw our work to the Government’s attention.

Ann Coffrey MP

What was said?

Conservative, Labour, SNP and SDLP parliamentarians all took the opportunity to speak about their concerns about the sexual exploitation of 16 and 17 year olds.

They spoke about the lack of victim support, the vulnerability of children in care, the role of social media, the lack of early intervention to stop exploitation before it begins and the problems the police face in tackling this complex issue.

Many of them agreed with us that sentencing for those exploiting 16 and 17 year olds needs to be more robust and that the tools police use to disrupt sexual exploitation – such as Child Abduction Warning Notices – need to be able to be used for all vulnerable children, not just those under 16 or those who are looked after under a full care order.

The debate was opened by Kit Malthouse MP who, along with Ann Coffey MP had sponsored the debate application for us.

Kit set the scene well when he said:

At the end of the debate Karen Bradley, Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation responded. She said:

‘I commend The Children's Society for their invaluable work in drawing attention to particular vulnerabilities and recommending actions.’

She highlighted some of the work the Government is already doing to tackle child sexual abuse like the forthcoming ‘What works?’ Centre which will disseminate best practice to social workers, health professionals, the police, teachers and others to make sure all professionals working with children are better informed to respond to child sexual exploitation.

Practitioners in Parliament

The debate was made extra special by the attendance of some practitioners from one of our child sexual exploitation support services in Essex.

Sarah Hegarty (child sexual exploitation project worker for our CARE Service) said "It's really important to come here today because seeing young people in our work constantly let down by the systems that should support them and the laws designed to protect them, we need to enable change"

And Shirley Edwards (one of our structured intervention service workers) added "It's important to get the message out there that it's not a level playing field for all young people"

The practitioners were even lucky enough to meet with Kit Malthouse MP after the debate, congratulating him on the debate and saying how great it was to see the issue raised in Parliament.

Practitioners from our Essex projects about to go into Parliament to watch the debate with Clare Bracey from our Campaigns Team

Practitioners from our Essex projects about to go into Parliament to watch the debate with Clare Bracey from our Campaigns Team

What happens next?

For us, yesterday’s debate was just one part of our Seriously Awkward Campaign. In the new year the Government will publish the Police & Criminal Justice Bill and we will be reading it closely to see if they have decided to put some of our recommendations into law.

We will be beginning work to bring everyone’s attention to other Seriously Awkward issues that affect vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds like access to mental health services, housing, and drug and alcohol abuse.

And our campaigners will continue to press decision makers for change.

We hope you’ll stay with us on our #Seriously Awkward journey.

By Richard Crellin - Policy team
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Ask the Government to strengthen the law so that 16 and 17 year olds experiencing sexual exploitation are given protection, get the help they need and access to the justice they deserve.

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