18 Dec 2015

MPs today are highlighting the urgent need to tackle the huge number of sexual offences being committed against 16 and 17-year-olds that go unreported and unpunished every year (Thursday, 17 December). 

The debate is supported by national charity The Children’s Society, which provides a range of services to help young people cope with the trauma of sexual exploitation – and to protect those at risk before they become victims.

The charity’s Seriously Awkward campaign is highlighting how 16 and 17 year olds don’t get the same protection or help as younger children, despite being at high risk of abuse or harm and in many cases extremely vulnerable.

Teenage girls aged 16 and 17 are more likely to be a victim of a sexual offence than any other age group, with almost 1 in 10 saying they experienced a sexual offence in the last year.

Despite this, research by The Children’s Society shows that police take no action against perpetrators in more than three quarters of reported sexual crimes against teenagers in this age group. Only a tiny proportion of cases result in successful prosecutions.

Analysis from the charity found that nearly 1 in 10 girls aged 16 and 17 said they had experienced a sexual offence in the last year - equal to 50,000 across the country. In contrast, data from 30 police forces in England, suggests that only 4,900 crimes of a sexual nature have been reported in the last year where the victim was 16 or 17.

The most vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds are often at highest risk of being preyed upon. People seeking to exploit them will go to great lengths to target vulnerable young people using gifts, affection, money, alcohol, drugs - or the false promise of love. Victims are often teenagers in the care system, with backgrounds of abuse and neglect, learning disabilities or with mental health problems.

The Children’s Society is calling for the law to be strengthened to provide better protection for vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds, and for police to be given greater powers to intervene when a 16 or 17 year old is being targeted and groomed for exploitation, in order to prevent this group being placed at higher risk than younger children. It also wants older teenagers who experience this awful trauma to be given urgent mental health support so they can stay safe and rebuild their lives.

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: 'The law should send a strong message that sexual offences against all children, including those aged 16 and 17, will not be tolerated. Too many cases go unreported and unpunished because victims are gripped by the fear of not being believed, or because they are scared of the process or think the offence isn’t worth reporting.

'We see in our frontline work how these vulnerable teenagers are often not recognised as victims of exploitation, professionals can be unsure or reluctant to intervene, and the police can find it very difficult to bring perpetrators to justice. The law needs to change to recognise the vulnerability of 16 and 17 year-olds. And that change needs to happen now.'

Media enquiries:

 For more information or an interview, please call The Children’s Society media team on 020 7841 4422 or email media@childrenssociety.org.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.

Notes to Editors:

  •  Child sexual exploitation, defined in collaboration with young people from The Children’s Society, is someone taking advantage of a child sexually, for their own benefit. Through threats, bribes, violence, humiliation, or by telling the child that they love them, they will have the power to get them to do sexual things for their own, or other people’s, benefit or enjoyment, including: touching or kissing private parts, sex or taking sexual photos.
  • The Children’s Society’s recent report, Old Enough to Know Better?, examines why older teenagers are particularly at risk of child sexual victimisation. It uncovers the extent to which 16 and 17 year olds are the victims of sexual offences and considers why they find it so difficult to disclose their experiences and access help and support. 
  • The Children’s Society wants to double its support to help more than 1,000 young people stay safe and rebuild their lives through our specialist services across the country. To help, donate here. See Emily’s Story to find out more about child sexual exploitation and what you can do to help: www.childrenssociety.org.uk/emilysstory
  • For more information about The Children’s Society’s Seriously Awkward campaign
  • The Children’s Society is a national charity that runs local services, helping children and young people when they are at their most vulnerable, and have nowhere left to turn. We also campaign for changes to laws affecting children and young people, to stop the mistakes of the past being repeated in the future. Our supporters around the country fund our services and join our campaigns to show children and young people they are on their side.