Debate on a Member's Legislative Proposal: Child Victims of Sexual Abuse (3/4/19)

Janet's contribution:

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I would like to thank the Member for bringing this motion to debate and reminding us all of the need to work towards the protection and safeguarding of our children and young people that are victims of the most horrific sexual abuse and exploitation. I am terribly concerned by the statistics on current sexual abuse, and the serious and often long-term psychological harm that this can have on victims. Approximately 54,000 sexual offences were committed against children under the age of 18 in the period between October 2015 and 2016. 

Sexual abuse can occur in multiple forms, from rape, sexual activity, sexual assault, trafficking, abuse of trust, voyeurism, and other non-consensual and manipulative abuse. Given the inevitable psychological distress, pain and suffering that accompanies sexual abuse, I agree that Wales—having read more into it—should also look to adopt the Barnahus Icelandic model.

As explained by the NHS England review of pathway following sexual assault for children and young people in 2005, the Barnahus model fully integrates the psychological care and treatment that these victims need early on in their recovery, and when they report the crime. Crucially, this model emphasises the inclusion of fully qualified and experienced mental health practitioners. There will be full integration of all bodies that would have close involvement with a child sexual abuse case.

Indeed, two of the biggest hurdles that need to be overcome in properly tackling sexual abuse are the building of trust and confidence in young people to come forward, and to reduce and mitigate the feelings of fear and self-blame that are often entrenched in sexual abuses cases. The key to the former, of course, involves the police and their relationship to communities and to the public. Perhaps this aspect of police work needs to be emphasised more, with better police training, and also looking at how they do interact when reports come in.

In summary, I wish to express my approval of this motion in order to protect some of our most vulnerable children. Comprehensive changes are needed, and this does include, I think, working towards the principle that Bethan Sayed AM has mentioned, the Barnahus model, as in Iceland, Norway, Greenland and Denmark. As well as preventing re-traumatisation and continuing to offer therapeutic intervention services, we should also strive to overcome the emotional factors that cause such poor prosecution rates. Thank you and well done, Bethan.