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Making Justice Work for young people affected by sexual exploitation

Postit note: 'things got worse'

Mon 23rd March, 2015

The latest research from the University of Bedfordshire has found just a few small changes will make a big difference to a young person’s journey through the criminal justice system.

‘Making Justice Work’ details the experiences of criminal justice for children and young people affected by sexual exploitation as victims and witnesses. It follows a young person’s journey through the criminal justice system, identifying areas of particular difficulty and opportunities for change and improvement.

The award-winning team from the International Centre: Researching child sexual exploitation, violence, and trafficking at the University, observed engagement in criminal justice processes to be very challenging and, in some cases, traumatic for the young people involved.

“My experience made me feel so bad…I feel like I can’t go to the police no more because I’ll just get laughed at; I’ll get judged and get hurt really deep down.” (young person C)

Many young people ended their engagement with the criminal justice system without any sense of ‘closure, relief or satisfaction’.

The research highlights how disempowering the criminal justice system can be for the young people involved, and the far reaching negative impact it has on their well-being and wider lives.

However the report reveals how just a few small changes could make a big difference to a young person’s experience. These changes are particularly critical at a time when so many sexual exploitation cases are going through the criminal justice system, with young people needing support and protection.

Dr Helen Beckett co-author of the report and Deputy Director of the International Centre said: “A striking finding of our research was the majority of the ‘big asks’ for change requested by young people were already recommended or feasible within current policy and guidance.”

“What we need now,” said Dr Beckett, “is to capitalise on the momentum there is to improve the system and ensure policy commitments are translated into practice.

“Starting to make child-centred justice a reality doesn’t need a huge investment in resources,” she continued. “It is a matter of the professionals, young people meet on their journey through the criminal justice system, making small but significant changes.”

The research identifies the importance of effective communication at all times, and how access to specialist advocacy can help mitigate many of the difficulties they encounter.

Bill Rammell, Vice Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire said: “The International Centre is a prime example of how research conducted by a university can make a difference and have a direct benefit to society.

“I am particularly pleased that by addressing the wider aspects of child sexual exploitation, this University has helped to influence policy and change practice for the better.”

The authors of Making Justice Work are Dr Helen Beckett and Dr Camille Warrington from the International Centre: Researching child sexual exploitation, violence, and trafficking at the University of Bedfordshire.

Young people supported by three different agencies; Barnardo’s, The Children’s Society and Safe & Sound, took part in the research.

The authors were supported by Abianda

In support of Making Justice Work

Javed Khan, Chief Executive, Barnardo’s

“A justice system which further traumatises abused children and gives many no closure, relief or satisfaction is a system which is not fit for children. It is also one which does not serve justice effectively.

“The finding that this could be avoided by making a few simple changes should be a call to action. Those changes must now be made.”

Sherry Peck, Area Director - London and the East of England,The Children’s Society

“This research shows only too well the serious challenged faced by victims of sexual exploitation when they try to get justice. Children have to be brave to even tell someone that they’re being sexually exploited, let alone stand up in court and be aggressively cross-examined. Too often, these children are disbelieved and doubted, made to relive their stories again and again and face attempts to undermine their character.

“We’re calling for victims to be at the heart of the court process and given support so it is less intimidating. This might include being given options on how they give evidence and having the process explained to them in language they understand. Victims must be supported and abusers must be brought to justice.”

Nathalie Walters, Chief Executive, Safe & Sound Derby

“The strongest voice in making justice work for victims and witnesses of child sexual exploitation belongs to those who have been directly affected. We are incredibly proud of the young people involved in the research and the fact that they wanted to use their own experiences to help move things forward for others.”

Karen Froggatt, Director of Services, Victim Support

"Children are not being heard when they report crimes and are not taken seriously by the authorities. Tragically, that means criminals can carry on abusing them and other children.

"Fear of not being believed is one of the reasons children don’t want to tell anyone, let alone the police. The Government must do more to ensure victims of horrific abuse are not met with disbelief and suspicion by the authorities. Good policies only work if they are applied in practice.

“Children and young people must get the support they need to report crimes, testify in court and to try to come to terms with the awful ordeal they’ve been through.”


Notes to Editors

1. The team, from the International Centre: Researching child sexual exploitation, violence, and trafficking at the University of Bedfordshire won the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for its pioneering, applied and partnership based research into child sexual exploitation.

2.The Queen’s Anniversary Prize recognises and celebrates outstanding work within UK higher and further education institutions and the impact that they have. It is the UK’s highest form of national recognition open to a UK higher or further education institution.

3.To request an interview with a member of the team from the International Centre or from an independent party please contact the Press Office at the University of Bedfordshire on (01582) 489399 or 07734 981212, or email

Bedfordshire University

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