Child Protection - Be bold to stop sex abuse, teachers told

16th August 2013 at 01:00
Head prosecutor urges staff to abandon `overcautious' approach

The head of the UK's Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has said that teachers have often been "overcautious" in reporting cases of child sexual abuse for fear of making false allegations.

Kier Starmer, director of public prosecutions, also called for a change in the way that the profession, the police and prosecutors perceive people making claims of abuse, and demanded that allegations are taken more seriously.

The CPS has published new guidelines setting out the complexities of child sex abuse cases and proposing a new approach. Too often, Mr Starmer said, the authorities have questioned the credibility of the victims of sex abuse rather than focusing on the allegation itself.

"Also, an overcautious approach has been adopted on some occasions in the past, perhaps reflecting an understandable concern for guarding against false allegations, but my view is that this degree of caution is not generally justified," he added.

Mr Starmer has called on teachers to contribute to the new guidance, which has been put out for public consultation.

The move comes after a series of high-profile cases in the UK, such as those in Rochdale and Oxford, where it was found that a number of girls had been groomed and abused by gangs of men.

Earlier this month, the CPS was criticised when one of its lawyers, in a case where a 13-year-old girl had been sexually abused by a 41-year-old man, apportioned some of the blame to the victim. Robert Colover said that the girl, who cannot be named, was a "sexual predator", while judge Nigel Peters accepted his evaluation and went on to describe her as "egging on" her abuser.

The CPS has said that the number of children at risk of sexual abuse could be "considerably higher" than thought, and many teachers believe the quality of training on how to spot and deal with these cases needs to be significantly improved.

Susan Coates, a primary school teacher in the North East of England and an ambassador for the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, said concerns around false accusations are a "huge factor" for teachers and called for better training.

"I fear for young teachers working in schools now because often they have little or no training in this sort of thing," Ms Coates said. "There ought to be training in serious child protection during initial teacher training, because I think that sometimes teachers have no idea how to deal with it and who to report it to when it does happen."

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