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Analytical Essay on Victimology: Victims of Child Sexual Abuse

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Introduction to victim group

Crime can imply many physical, material and psychological harms for a victim (Woods, 2006). A child’s experience of crime is distinguished from that of an adult’s “due to their maturity levels and vulnerability” (Victim Support, 2017). Child grooming is when the perpetrator fosters a relationship with a child to sexually abuse them (NSPCC, 2019). The focus of this policy file will be victims of child sexual abuse (CSA) (under the age of 18 years), in particular, victims of child sex grooming.

The victim of crime has gone from being neglected and marginalised in the criminal justice system (Hoyle and Young 2002 cited in Walklate, 2012) to be the backbone of political discourses on ‘law and order.’ (Walklate, 2012). There are some individuals more deserving of the legitimate status of the ‘ideal victim’ than others (Christie 1986). The ‘ideal victim’ status can be based on the views of; the victim’s vulnerability against the offender, to what extent the victim is blameless, the victim as being unrelated to the offender and the victim as possessing enough power to defend themselves without being a threat to powerful oppositional interests (Christie, 1986). In this policy file, I will argue, the acquirement of the legitimate victim status of child grooming, deserving of help and policy interventionism may be based on the apparent assumptions of the child’s vulnerability and innocence.

The latest official statistics

  • 1 in 3 children have been a victim of sexual abuse by an adult and did not notify anyone about this (Radford et al, 2011).
  • 2,260 (4.4%) of children in England were under the child protection plan; sexual abuse recorded as the first type of abuse (IICSA, 2018).
  • Women were more likely to be victims of sexual abuse by a parent or guardian; 1.5% of the female victims, aged 18-24 experienced this as a child. (Ons.gov.uk, 2016) Bentley et al, 2018
  • More than 63,000 incidences of sexual offences against children in 2016/17 were recorded by the police; 54,846 sexual offences were against children under 18.
  • 15.5 % of those aged 11- 18 years have received a sexual message or a request for a sexual image, girls were more likely than boys to receive such requests. 23.6% of young people had a stranger trying to contact them online.
  • In England recorded offences of sexual grooming increased from 2015-16; 969-1132 sexual grooming offences. In the UK, there has been a general increase in sexual grooming offences since 2010/11.
  • More than 9,000 child sexual offences were recorded by the police to be online; rape, sexual assault and grooming make up online crimes against children (NCPCC, 2019).

The statistics emphasise the true extent of victimisation of CSA remains hidden. Most children do not tell anyone that they have been sexually abused. As a consequence, there is a dark figure of unrecorded crimes of CSA. This means the current image of victims is inaccurate as most offences remain not detected (Maguire and Pointing, 1988).

News media coverage

1. Jimmy Saville [image: bsessed with sex: Jimmy Saville] (Rex, 2014)

Violence is newsworthy and emphasised in the media when both a celebrity and an institutional cover-up is involved (Greer, 2017, p.14). Jimmy Saville was newsworthy. This is because he was a celebrated BBC entertainer who sexually abused and groomed 57 girls and women, and 15 boys while working for the BBC (Watson, 2016). There was an institutional failure in which the BBC, hospitals, schools, the police, and prosecutors allowed this to happen in plain sight (Laville, Addley and Halliday, 2013). The BBC was not seen as culpable by a judge because senior managers were not informed (Watson, 2016).

Public outrage is still dependent on the idealised images of childhood as innocence, which is emphasised by the media as such anyone who exploits children’s vulnerability is vilified (Gekoski, Gray and Adler, 2012). This may lead to victim’s experiences being ignored, for instance, the emphasis on Jimmy Saville being an evil paedophile in the media, contributes to the failure in bringing institutions that were responsible for protecting young children (the victims) to account. This is because the media by vilifying Jimmy Saville creates the impression that he is the only individual who should be held responsible. The victim’s plight is again, neglected.

2. R- Kelly [image: Kelly] (Getty Images, 2019)

R&B singer R-Kelly, was able to avoid allegations about him sexually grooming minors for years. Recently he was charged for 10 counts of sexual abuse (Harris and Chiarito, 2019). ‘Surviving R Kelly’, a documentary was released, where victims relayed their experience of being abused and witnessing the sexual abuse of other young women (Mokoena, 2019). The social media response involved backlash against the victims. This was followed up by activists addressing victim blaming (Mokoena, 2019). The victims were mainly black women; many have suggested societies prejudice toward black women has allowed R-Kelly to keep his career (Bain, 2019). The case emphasises there are racial disparities in regard to innocence; a black girl’s innocence is undermined. More so, victims were seen as responsible; as precipitators of their own victimisation, and this in effect, deflecting blame from the offender (O’Connell, 2008), R-Kelly. There is a long way to go in uncovering the scale of the problem of child sexual grooming because of a culture in which victims are blamed and disbelieved.

3. Shamima Begum [image: hamima Begum told The Sunday Telegraph she wishes she’d found a different way to co] (ITV News, 2019)

There was a consensus that Shamima Begum was a victim, an innocent child who had been brainwashed and groomed online when she left the UK to join the Islamic state at 15 years old (Segalov, 2019). Recently, she was brought to public attention in the media as nine months pregnant in a Syrian refugee camp ( Segalov, 2019). There was controversy concerning whether she should be able to return to the UK, her citizenship was revoked by the home secretary in the UK, and her newborn son died later in the Syrian refugee camp (Chulov, Parveen and Rasool, 2019). The response to Shamima wanting to return was disapproval, she had been seen as an undeserving victim, despite being a victim of child sexual grooming.

“Othering’ reduces devalued groups such as immigrants to outcast reified creatures who share nothing in common with the common mass of the population who may serve as scapegoats for collective ills.” (Rock, 2010, p.466). Christie, (1886) describes one of the characteristics of suitable enemies are they are seen as dangerous and inhumane. The media could be seen to propagate the othering process by perpetuation of words like “Radicalised” (Rodger, 2019), “showing no remorse” (Rodger, 2019), “Jihadi bride” (Dunn and Wells, 2019), her baby labelled as a “Jihadi baby” (Binns, 2019). She is no longer seen as a vulnerable child who was groomed online by terrorist groups, she is now an enemy. The media portrayal can be seen to be dissecting her trauma, vilifying her and stripping her of any humanity. Violence is interpreted to be inherent in the baby due to the image of Shamima, the mother as “radicalised.” Her lack of remorse is seen as to why her citizenship should be revoked, her racialized essence can be seen to make her less of a victim and making her stateless can be seen as Britain’s way of not dealing with its complicity in its violence e.g. terrorism. The context in which way the victim is lived is ignored. The identification of crime has been left for last, while a system of punishment is prioritised and prosecution second (Kapoor, 2018).

Empirical Research

How safe are our children?

(Bentley et al, 2018).

There has been progress in the recording of sexual offences by the police and more victims coming forward. There has also been rapid development in the online world which has given predators more access to children. This has contributed to an increase in CSA in the UK. Police are able to charge adults now for sending sexual messages to children; the Government has decided to also implement laws to protect children online. Children who have been abused online self-harm, self-blame, experience depression, and psychological trauma. The NSPCC has been advocating for legislation which includes; 1. Social media firms to be obligated to have a consistent set of minimum safeguarding standards, 2. the introduction of child dedicated accounts with default safety settings, 3. for social networks and platforms to be held accountable, by ensuring they regularly report how they keep children safe, 4.ensuring such platforms are actively engaging in preventing exposure to illegal content and behaviour, and to be active in identifying illegal behaviour on their sites, such as grooming. The report identifies the public support; improving the skills of parents, relationships between parents and their children and the provision of good health services for parents as possible solutions to prevent abuse.

Measuring the scale and changing nature of child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation

(Kelly and Karsna, 2018)

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The seriousness of child sex abuse and grooming online is evident; the referrals the National Crime Agency received from internet service providers increased from around 400 per month in 2010 to 4,075 in 2016 (National Police Chiefs’ Council, 2017 cited in Kelly and Karsna, 2018). The perpetrator of abuse is overwhelmingly male and girls and women are overwhelmingly the victims. The current information available on victims do not consistently differentiate between the profiles of the victim’s, other than on the basis of their sex. The understanding of the relationship between offender and victim and the context of their abuse is as a result weak. To improve data on child victims, it is proposed the government fund the publishing of child sexual abuse studies, continue to encourage organisations who conduct similar surveys to maintain a good relationship and the exchange of data between academics and other data holders. Also, to bring together methodologists who will study possible enhancements in survey questions which might aid differentiation between child sexual abuse and child sexual exploitation, while also engaging young people in the discussion.

Victim support policy statement — children and young people

(Victim support, 2017)

Young people are fearful of the consequences of reporting a crime and unsure on how to report a crime while teachers or professionals who children are more likely to tell lack confidence. Teachers and other professional bodies to be trained to effectively identify children at risk as well as age-appropriate education concerning these issues has been proposed to counteract this. Vulnerable victims are denied pre-trial therapy which aids psychological support. In response victim support (2017) propose, The NHS and criminal justice agencies work together to provide this. The criminal injuries compensation scheme suggests sexual assault is a crime when a person did not consent. Despite the law stating sexual assault against children under the age of 16 is automatically criminal. This has led to children being denied compensation on such grounds. The scheme denies victims compensation if they have a criminal record despite victims of CSA being often from troubled backgrounds as a result, being more likely to have a criminal record before the abuse. More so, being abused will make them more likely to commit an offence under the force of abuser or as a reaction to the abuse. In some cases, victim’s compensation has been reduced on such grounds, this causing up to an 80% reduction in compensation.

The scale of child sexual abuse in England and Wales.

(ICSA, 2019)

There are barriers for victims of CSA; cost, a limited number of solicitors to take up their cases thus there should be assistance to help them bring a claim. The language used by society was highlighted as damaging to victims causing victims to self-blame. In response, the inquiry proposes the government support a culture change. The Inquiry proposes the DBS should ‒ automatically bar the professional concerned from working with children to protect children from abuse.

Grooming child victims into sexual abuse: a psychometric analysis of survivors’ experiences.

(Wolf, Linn and Pruitt, 2018)

There are no other research methodologies that analyse grooming experienced by survivors in a reliable and valid way. This study analysed the ‘psychometric properties of the Grooming subscale of the Computer Assisted Maltreatment Inventory (CAMI) in a sample of adult survivors of child sexual abuse’ (Wolf, Linn and Pruitt, 2018, p. 215). The most common ways perpetrators made sure that the child did not reveal the abuse was to tell the child to keep it a secret, tell them they were playing a game and use their authority to convince them to obey. Measures which can accurately assess grooming can help victims by contributing to trying to understand the behaviours of those who perpetrate grooming. This can help prevent abuse and help develop reform treatment efforts for survivors. It can analyse the occurrence of grooming amongst survivors and be used as a therapeutic tool to use in discussion with clients, as a way of discussing feelings about the process of victimisation.

Recommendations

Child-Centred Approach

Young people are fearful of the consequences of reporting a crime (Victim support, 2017). A multi-agency approach should be adopted; social services, police, schools and different agencies working together to protect young children alongside a child-centred approach – whereby the child’s safety and needs are prioritised. Different agencies, education media police and communities should work together to ensure they are engaged in providing this and there should be guidance for professionals on how to support victims of child sexual grooming. This ensures that there are services at hand to support young people. Young people should also be educated about the dangers of grooming/ online grooming and about the services available to them for support.

Victim Blaming Should Be Challenged Across Society- There Should Be A More Victim-Centred Approach By The CJA. Public opinion, media and fear should not accelerate what should happen to victims. Media exposure can delegitimize the experiences of victims, and this can deny victims a fair trial. The victim’s participation should be looked at to understand why the crime did happen (Fattah 1991 cited in O’Connell, 2008), with the purpose to prevent victimisation rather than to place blame on victims (O’connell, 2008). CSA should not be sensationalised, the correct language and a code of conduct should be adopted by the media when showing such offences. CSA victims are denied compensation on the basis they “consented”. The current guidelines should be revisited to ensure victims are given the right support.

More Research On Victims- There remains an unknown figure of CSA victims in the official statistics. Victims of one crime are more likely to be victims of other crimes (Maguire and Pointing, 1988)- child sexual grooming can persist into other forms of victimisation adding to this figure. The government should provide funding to aid research on victims or provide support lines for victims which will allow them to disclose information. Methodologies that analyse grooming experienced by survivors by trying to understand the behaviours of grooming should be encouraged as this can help develop strong support mechanisms for victims as well as help identify preventative measures of child sexual grooming (Wolf, Linn and Pruitt, 2018). The statistics indicate females are more likely to be victims of this abuse, the “ideal victim” is also constructed as female however, both boys and girls can be victims of child sexual grooming. In regard to the dark figure of crime, there should be a de-emphasis on the victims as female and the offenders as male, rather there should be focus that victims and offenders can be both male and female; perhaps this will make victims who do not fit the “ideal victim” more likely to report their experience.

Funding- There have been cuts to early preventative intervention schemes which are vital to protect young children and to support those in professional positions to support those at risk and victims. Funding should be provided to support those who work on the ground to protect young children e.g. social care, teachers.

Child Protection Services; There Should Be A Different Department?

The psychological and physical harms should be considered by policymakers while having equal concern for the impact of crime and as the well-being of victims (Evans and Forsyth (2004) cited in Woods, 2006). If a victim of child sexual grooming proceeds to commit a crime as they are more likely to do so under coercion, they may be seen as a victim offender. There should be a different department which provides support in helping young people come to terms with their abuse, rather than punishing them. The relationship between victim and offender should be explored to understand its causes in order to prevent its recurrence.

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