Posted: 05 November 2015

Are 16 and 17 year olds old enough to know better?

Our latest report - Old enough to know better? Why sexually exploited older teenagers are being overlooked - highlights three important messages.

First, it shows that 16 and 17 year olds are particularly vulnerable to becoming a victim of sexual offences. Based on our analysis of the Crime Survey for England and Wales, females aged 16 and 17 are at the highest risk compared to other ages. Their vulnerability has remained effectively invisible because many of them do not go to the police to report a crime.

Graph: By age, females who said they'd been sexually assaulted

Source: Old enough to know better? report

Our analysis showed that for 16 and 17 year olds, reasons for not reporting sexual assaults to the police included not thinking that it was ‘worth reporting’, anxiety about having to go to court, fear of not being believed, and not wanting the perpetrator(s) to be punished. We also found that 16 and 17 year olds were not always able to recognise when they were being sexually abused.

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Take action to stop child sexual exploitation

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.

The most vulnerable 16-17 year olds are targeted

Second, our report shows that 16 and 17 year olds who face a range of other issues in their lives, such as mental health issues, recovering from trauma of abuse or neglect in earlier childhood, dealing with substance misuse issues or family conflict and breakdown, are specifically targeted by adults seeking to exploit them.

This message came through very strongly from the 10 practitioners we interviewed for our report, and in 30 stories of young people that we analysed, as our case notes show:

‘Young person told me about some abusive messages that her and a friend had received via Facebook instant message which were extremely abusive, they included serious threats of both sexual and physical abuse. Young person showed me the messages as she had screen shot them. The person sending the message had told young person that he got her name from the children’s mental health services signing in register.’

The law is not on their side

When it comes to seeing justice done only a small number of reported crimes result in alleged perpetrator(s) being charged. In fact, only two out of ten reported crimes result in charges against perpetrators.

One of the reasons for this is that the law is not always on the young person’s side. For example, the police cannot intervene at an early stage to disrupt contact between an exploitative individual and a young person aged 16or 17 as the Child Abduction Warning Notices – a tool widely used for children under the age of 16 – cannot be applied to them.

Young people age 16 and over can consent to sexual acts. Often though they are groomed to submit to such acts through the use of alcohol or drugs. Even though the law is clear that young people under the age of 18 cannot purchase alcohol themselves, in sexual offences cases it does not specifically protect young people who are supplied with alcohol and then coerced into sexual acts.

We believe that the case is very clear that the law needs to be strengthened to send a clear message that 16 and 17 year olds are still children and that sexual crimes against them will not be tolerated.

By Iryna Pona - Policy team
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Take action to stop child sexual exploitation

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.