Fall in child sexual abuse conviction rate: greater victim support needed

We have to seriously question why conviction rates are dropping when we know more child sexual abuse cases are going to court, says Alan Wardle

The number of convictions in child sexual abuse prosecutions in 2014/15 rose 19 per cent from 3,344 to 3,975, the highest volume ever according to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Violence against Women and Girls crime report published today. However, although there were more successful prosecutions the conviction rate actually fell (from 76.5 per cent to 73.8 per cent).

While the report focuses on the experiences of women and girls, the research also raises strong concerns about the treatment of children and young people in our justice system. The figures serve as a strong reminder that we need to ensure young victims have the best support possible when giving evidence.

Although conviction rates are dropping it's still very encouraging to see more cases are being brought and prosecuted. We need to ensure children who have been abused feel confident that they can come forward and that they will be listened to. However, we also need to ensure children who do come forward are supported through the court system, which is one that has been designed by adults for adults.

girl smiling at tableIf we want to improve the conviction rate, it is vital that we make the experience for children giving evidence as safe and supportive as possible.

Attending court can be a tremendous ordeal for children who are often terrified they will bump into their attacker or face hostile cross-examination from barristers.

Our Order in Court campaign has pushed for victims to be assisted by experts to help them understand what is being said in court about their case. We also want children to be able to give evidence via video-link from a building away from court to prevent them coming face to face with their abuser. When these vital aids are fully implemented they may help increase the number of convictions.