Next week I will be appearing before the Justice Select Committee, delivering evidence as part of the Committee’s pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Victims Bill. Below I set out my thoughts on the Bill from the perspective of children. Overall, the Bill needs to fully reflect child victims’ voices and recognise that children’s needs are distinct from adults.
Firstly, I welcome the fact that the Bill encompasses a broad definition of “victim” – including those who are witness to crime and where there have been no criminal convictions. Witnessing abuse can be enormously traumatic to a child and it is vital that the Bill recognises this. The new statutory duty on local services to collaborate on commissioning services for victims is also very important to ensure that there is clear and accountable join-up to support children’s (often complex) journeys through the police, justice, and health systems, and beyond.
However, children need to be at the heart of the Victims Bill. The specific and long-term trauma that children suffer as the result of poor experiences of the criminal justice system must be addressed. These are distinct from adults’ needs. The Bill must not fall short on recognising children’s experiences.
Specifically, I would like to see explicit reference to the role of Children and Young People’s Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (CHISVAs) and Children and Young People’s Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (CHIDVAs) in the delivery of support for child victims. These professionals offer specialist support to children who have survived sexual or domestic violence, with child-centred training around trauma, child rights and advocacy. The rights for children to access these specialist professionals, beyond just adult-facing services, should be enshrined on the face of the Victims Bill.
Over the coming months my Office will be speaking to children who have been referred to Sexual Abuse Referral Clinics (SARCs) to understand more about their experiences of being referred to these services. I will be using children’s voices to understand how services can be built around children to offer them the best support through social services, therapeutic support and the criminal justice system. In particular, I am interested in learnings from the Child House model, which offers various services including police, social services and healthcare under one roof, and how we can use this to inform thinking on the Victims Bill.
Finally, I am keen to see that the Bill supports child victims of criminal exploitation – those who appear before the criminal justice system as both victim and defendant. This is a highly vulnerable cohort of children who have been exposed to considerable trauma. I will be advocating for the Bill to protect child victims of exploitation, to ensure that they are protected as victims and not criminalised.
The draft Victims Bill presents enormous opportunities and I welcome it. However, I think that the draft legislation can go much further in addressing children’s needs. I look forward to discussing these issues alongside the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, the Victims’ Commissioner for London, and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner before the Justice Select Committee next week.