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In relation to children as victims of crime many changes in policies and practices have occurred to ensure the needs of the victims are met and that services and support available to those reach the highest possible standard. However the issue has been raised of whether the harm and distress caused to the victim can be improved by agencies working with the victims (Spalek, 2006). Elias (1990) claims that children receive more political and research attention as a result of an increased sympathetic response (Cited in Spalek, 2006). However, Boswell (2005) argues that children as victims have too often been overlooked despite the fact of the frequently publicised crimes that have been committed against them.
The law in England and Wales classifies a child as anyone below the age of 18 years (Boswell, 2005). The commitment of the government is to ensure that people work together to safeguard children. Safeguarding is a relatively new term unlike child protection as it also includes prevention. These ideas are set out under the banner of its programme Every Child Matters: Change for Children and in the document Working Together (CPS, 2006). The aim is for children to be happy, healthy, safe and successful (CPS, 2006). The community as a whole can help to safeguard children, especially those who work with children and families; those people in particular have a responsibility to ensure that procedures for safeguarding children are obeyed. This duty of care comes under Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 (Safeguarding Children, 2009). Furthermore, the government is also committed to ensuring that the criminal justice system is fair, this includes services and support available to vulnerable and intimidated witnesses reaches the highest possible standard (Ministry of Justice, 2011).
Children can be victims of abuse, cruelty or neglect and almost any other type of crime. In 2010/11 17,727 sexual crimes against children under the age of 16 were recorded alone in England and Wales (NSPCC, 2012). However, there is no single national source on the realization of children as victims, and the prevalence of child abuse is believed to be seriously under-reported and recorded, and frequently unrecognized (Boswell, 2005). Due to ethical and privacy issues gathering data on crimes against children is usually prohibitive, for example the British Crime Survey does not interview those under 16 years of age (Kennison & Goodman, 2008). Anderson et al. (1994) argues that this is a serious exclusion as young people are one of the most vulnerable groups in society (Cited in Kennison & Goodman, 2008). Social workers have a duty to intervene to protect children and must work jointly with the police and other agencies. It is only when these joint perspectives are analysed together that children have the best chance of protection and seeking justice through a conviction (Davies & Duckett, 2008). Children as victims of crime must be valued, empowered and informed of their legal rights without further victimization (Davies & Duckett, 2008).
In 1973 the first major case of child abuse was that of Maria Colwell, she had been removed from her family home by social services, but had later been returned resulting to her death. This case and the outcry from the public led to the acceptance of the term 'child abuse'. This case resulted in a new system of child protection in the UK involving area child protection committees, inter-agency case conferences, and the progress of specific training (Newburn, 2007).
In spite of this it was not until the early 1980's that the idea of sexual abuse of children opposed to physical abuse gained any sort of real acknowledgement. In 1984, Jasmine Beckford and her sister had been placed in care soon after their births because of evidence of physical abuse, later they were returned where Jasmine was murdered by her step father aged 4 years old. Yet again this case was essential into raising the issue to the public's attention. It was therefore recommended by the public enquiry that the primary aim of social work was to protect the child, rather than keep the family together (Newburn, 2007).
Two other fundamental developments in the late 1980's have brought further attention to the issue of child abuse in the UK. The first was the setting up of a telephone helpline, 'Childline' in 1986 (Newburn, 2007). In 1988 Childline had been taken 700 calls a day, but the switchboard had logged a further 7000 attempted calls. The demand for its services and the increasing pressure on social services and voluntary organisations such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) indicates that children are in need of help and protection (Rogers, Hevey & Ash, 1989). Although Childline was not without its critics, the publicity that surrounded its operation did as much as anything to draw public attention to the issue of sexual abuse in children (Newburn, 2007). Since the initial launch of Childline, its service has expanded over the country, as the need became increasing apparent. They also recognised that childhood was changing and that many children today have access to the internet, therefore in 2009 they launched the Childline website. In 2010/2011 this website was visited by 951,000 people looking for help and advice (NSPCC, 2011).
Knowledge of child sexual abuse reached new heights following the events of Cleveland in 1987 when a hospital in Middlesbrough appeared to have an extensive problem with children suspected to be victims of sexual abuse. Strong debates of concern from the public caused the Cleveland Report in 1988 which capitalised on the public mood, since then the mass media and legislators followed suit. It was recommended in the report that social workers and the police share responsibility for the control of child sexual abuse. The pressure on the police was to introduce more sympathetic means of dealing with children as victims of sexual violence (Kennison & Goodman, 2008).
In 1987 the Metropolitan Police Service launched a committed team of police officers called Child Protection Teams (CPT). The CPT dealt with child protection issues with social workers under a Detective Inspector. The role of the police in this context makes them the lead investigative agency. They have a responsibility to make enquiries, to collect information and evaluating evidence for criminal prosecutions (Kenninson & Goodman, 2008). However, at this point in time the law treated a child as an unreliable witness, the law's attitude towards children was based on the idea that children are prone to lie and make up stories. The judge would warn the jury on the dangers of convicting based on the child's testimony. Although there was no research evidence for this view, in fact Jay and Doganis (1987) argued that children are less likely to lie than adults (Cited in Rogers, Hevey & Ash, 1989). Demands for changes in the laws argued that children and adults are no different in terms of their ability to recall accurately, and to recognise truth from falsehood. This involved a significant shift in perceptions of children and the need to listen to them (Rogers, Hevey & Ash, 1989).
At this point policies, practices and systems in child protection have changed in a variety of ways. Although lessons have been highlighted and with communication improving between child protection agencies, there have been further victims who have died at the hands of their carers. In 2000 Victoria Climbie was murdered due to systematic errors in all the key agencies failing to protect Victoria. It was Victoria's legacy that made the government review the issue of child protection resulting in the 'Every Child Matters' agenda (Kennison & Goodman, 2008). The purpose of this new policy aims to raise awareness, improve multi-agency working, and protect children better in the future than they have been in the past (Kennison & Goodman, 2008).
The complex treatment of children as victims raises concern to their involvement in the criminal justice system. Schudson, (1987) argues that a child participating in the criminal justice process constitutes a form of secondary victimization already traumatized by the crime (Cited in Quas & Goodman, 2012). However Shore (1985) claims that participating in a criminal case can be empowering over time, although the short term stress is unavoidable (Cited in Quas & Goodman, 2012). Powerful arguments have been advanced in favour of limiting the range of cases that come to court to protect the child, and much controversy surrounds the ideas of whether to reduce their participation or support them to understand and cope with their experiences (Quas & Goodman, 2012). As a response the 1988 Criminal Justice Act abolished the requirement that unsworn evidence from a child be corroborated and the 1991 Criminal Justice Act introduced the use of video recordings of testimony (Walklate, 2007).
However, putting this is in to practice Walker and Thurston (2006) suggests that there are considerable blocks to the successful prosecution of child protection cases. The Crown Prosecution Service has a low record in successfully prosecuting offenders of child abuse and custodial sentences are rare due to witness credibility and lack of corroborating evidence (Walker & Thurston, 2006). However, if there is no criminal prosecution, social workers must still protect the child using civil proceedings and consider application for criminal injuries compensation (Davies & Duckett, 2008).
Hall and Sales (2008) argues that psychological issues are apparent when children are placed into the legal system, an institution known for strictness and harshness (Cited in Quas & Goodman, 2012). A child's experience can vary dramatically when they come into contact with the criminal justice system. Some children may only be exposed to one or a few interviews, while others may have to undergo multiple evaluations or repeatedly appear in court. This depends on a range of factors such as the type of crime and the evidence available. A considerable amount of pressure is placed upon the child when their statements represent the only direct evidence of the crime. If then the evidence is considered to be sufficient, the alleged perpetrator is charged, and an arraignment is held. At the hearing it may be necessary for the child to testify or be subject to other evaluations such as competency. When a case reaches trial the initial date can be subject to change, often last minute and as a consequence can cause more emotional stress on the victim. The duration of criminal cases involving children can typically range from 1 to 2 years, which is still longer than recommended by governmental and non-governmental agencies. Again, this is seen as a form of secondary victimisation in which the criminal justice process alone is consuming the childhood of the child victim (Quas & Goodman, 2012).
The Home Office realised a report in 1998 'Speaking Up For Justice' which contains recommendations for improvements in the criminal justice system. This included the reporting of crime, the identification of vulnerable or intimidated witnesses, and measures to support witnesses before, during and after the trail. After public discussion, the Speaking Up For Justice recommendations were distinguished and the Home Office commenced a major programme known as Action for Justice to apply these recommendations (Gray, 2004).
In recent years courts have begun to revise their procedures where child victims are involved. Witnesses who may be vulnerable or intimidated for the purposes of special measures assistance are contained in the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. Vulnerable witnesses are not only people under the age of 18 but also those who suffer from a mental or physical disorder, or have a significant impairment of intelligence and social functioning (Ministry of Justice, 2011). Intimidated witnesses for the purposes of special measures assistance are defined by Section 17 of the Act as those whose quality of evidence is likely to be impaired by reason of fear or distress. In determining whether a witness falls into this category, the court should take into consideration the nature and alleged circumstances of the offence and also the age of the witness. Complainants to sexual offences are defined by Section 17(4) of the Act automatically fall into this category unless they wish to opt out (Ministry of Justice, 2011).
The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 as amended by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, allow all children who appear in criminal proceedings adequate for special measures, to support them to give their evidence in court (Ministry of Justice, 2011). Screens and video links in court have been customary to prevent direct contact between child witnesses and the accused; such amendments have been taken into account largely as a result of the Youth Offending and Criminal Justice Act 1999 (Newburn, 2007). Its provisions include; ordering the removal of wigs and gowns when the witness testifies, giving evidence in private in sexual cases involving intimidation, video recording of evidence-in-chief, examination through an intermediary, and the provision of aids to communicate for young or incapacitated witnesses (Newburn, 2007).
However, Goodey (2005) states a number of reasons why the provisions in the Act may not be fully realised. His reasons for this are; discretionary powers of the judiciary decide whether a victim should be considered as a vulnerable or intimidated witness and whether the victim is granted certain safeguards. He also claims that there is a lack of consistent service provision between and within agencies that should constantly recognise and respond to the needs of vulnerable or intimidated witnesses (Cited in Newburn, 2007).
Bull and Davies (1996) made an evaluation on the use of videotaped evidence; they found that this facility had not been used as broadly as expected, and the majority of videotaped evidence was used in cases of child sexual abuse (Cited in Boswell, 2005). Further research suggests that child victims who used videotaped evidence appeared to be less anxious than those using the live link facility which is available in over half of all Youth Courts (Boswell, 2005).
Witnesses should be given the opportunity to make a Victim Personal Statement (VPS) at the end of an initial interview. The VPS allows a victim of crime to express how the crime has affected them and identifies any need for information and support (CPS website). Police officers will take this statement from a child at the beginning, preferable by the video room, rather than writing it down. Parents and carers are also entitled to make a VPS on behalf of the child victim (Ministry of Justice, 2011).
A variety of organizations are there to support child victims and are provided by both professionals and volunteers, some being independent while others are funded by the government. Support to these victims may include emotional support such as trained volunteers to talk to, face to face or over the telephone (Walklate, 2007). However, O'Hara (2006) debates whether these services always meet the needs of these victims, this may not be due to the quality of the service being offered, but the victim may not receive the correct support to meet their needs (Cited in Walklate, 2007). Access to these services may also be limited due to referral procedures, for example Child Victims of Crime (CVOC) receives referrals from police officers. If a crime is not reported, or where a child is not seen to be affected by a crime, will not result in a service being offered (Walklate, 2007).
In 2008, the Child Protection Register was abolished on the grounds of no research findings (Davies & Duckett, 2008). The register provided a confidential alert system to hospitals and police assisting the identification of vulnerable children and enabling swift intervention to protect them. In Victoria Climbie's case, if her name was on the register she would have had a child protection plan to keep her safe. However, studies of serious case reviews found that some children died despite the fact of them being on the Child Protection Register (Davies & Duckett, 2008). There has been no replacement for the register although there is now provision for a child to be chosen as the subject of a child protection plan. However, this children's database has raised concern on children's and families privacy, also the professionals are overwhelmed with meeting targets, responding to low-level concerns, and are under pressure to close cases within the time scales provided, and as a result find it difficult to focus their attention on children at risk of harm (Davies & Duckett, 2008).
Children will only gain effective protection and support when professionals work together, this duty will not be achieved if agencies or workers act in isolation (Davies & Duckett, 2008). Over the last two decades the treatment towards child victims by agencies of the criminal justice system has been a source of concern for the government. This includes victims' satisfaction with the police, the courts and witness and victim support schemes (Spalek, 2006). Many changes have been made to policies and practice to improve the prevention and treatment of child victims. Children as victims of abuse has gained much political and research attention due to systematic errors. Children who have died in the past due to abuse leading to public outcry and as a result lead the government to reform our systems that protects and respond to child victims.
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