LARGE numbers of sex crimes against older teenagers in England and Wales have gone unreported and unpunished, because victims feared that they would not be believed, or they distrusted the justice system, a new report suggests.
The report Old Enough To Know Better? Why sexually exploited older teenagers are being overlooked, published by the Children’s Society, estimates that 50,000 girls aged 16 or 17 have been sexually assaulted or exploited in some way in the past 12 months.
The society is demanding action from the Government. Its chief executive, Matthew Reed, said: "Too many children are being left to suffer sexual exploitation in silence. Despite 16- and 17-year-olds being at the highest risk, they often receive the least support. Dangerous inconsistencies in the law and services need to be changed."
The charity’s figures are based on Freedom of Information requests to 39 police forces in England, and analysis of the Crime Survey for England and Wales. The police recorded 4900 sexual-offence cases, including sexual exploitation, rape, and sexual assaults, involving 16- and 17-year-olds. Less than one in five resulted in charges.
The Crime Survey received 224 reports of abuse from girls aged 16 and 17, which the Children’s Society converted, using a weighting formula approved by the Office of National Statistics, into a national figure that suggested that they represented 8.6 per cent of the national population of 16- and 17-year-old girls — a total of 50,000.
The report found that half of them did not go to the police because they did not consider it worth reporting, feared going to court, or did not want the perpetrators to be punished. Others thought that they might be judged, or feared the perpetrators, or were uncertain about what constituted crime, consent, and exploitation.
The survey concludes that older teenagers have less protection and support, because they are seen as being "old enough to know better", even when they have been targeted and groomed through the use of drugs and alcohol. The Children’s Society said that it was vital that the Government recognised their vulnerability.