16 years ago a lot of us put a great deal of work into what became the 1997 Sexual Offences Act which has now been modified by the 2003 Act.
This had two principle parts to it. The first was the creation of the register of sex offenders which has continued to this day to be a very valuable reference tool for the authorities to use in monitoring convicted offenders. The second part concerned extra territorial legislation – in other words the ability for British courts to prosecute British citizens for offences committed abroad against children if the country where the offence was committed did not pursue a prosecution. Since then my understanding is that there have only been about 5 prosecutions where many other countries who have similar legislation have used their equivalent to much greater effect.
I know all the arguments about getting witness statements, allowing witnesses to be cross examined by the defendant’s legal teams on video and authenticating any forensic evidence etc, but it is not beyond the wit of law enforcement, as demonstrated in other countries, to lobby for the resources to do this effectively. The net result would be, in all probability, a cost saving to this country – not just in term of children’s health but also financially – in future cases where offenders continue offending for many years after the time they should have been interrupted, challenged and registered.
There may be about 30,000 + names on the Sex Offenders Register today but we’ve got to be aware of the fact that in 1997 this was not made retrospective and if it had been, at that time, there would have been over 250,000 names on it – people alive, mainly men, who had been convicted of a sexual offence. We’ve got to get to a point where we accept the depth of offending in our community and the risks involved and balanced it by not unnecessarily scaring the population.
There still are many UK nationals going abroad to offend against children. Some plan the whole trip. Others are seduced by the exotic locations and forget themselves. Organised crime plays a significant part as there’s big money to be earned by sexual exploitation. I remember attending the 1st World Congress on Commercial Sexual Exploitation held in Stockholm in 2000 at which 1000 delegates from around the world kick started an extremely important strategic collaboration.
I know there’s been quite a lot of activity since but I question if it has been maintained quite as effectively as it could be. I know that CEOPs in the UK do excellent work but still have limited resources. I know that Europol and Interpol have improved communication systems and identification of victim systems but there’s still so much more to be done.
Law enforcement seems to be just keeping pace with offenders around the world and their increasingly sophisticated methods of exploiting children, but I’m not sure if the technology has advanced enough in the identification of victims – the area I’m most interested in – is keeping pace with the need.
Baroness Lucy Faithfull, sadly now gone, put so much time and effort into achieving this legislation and we were delighted to help her. I think she needs a more robust legacy.by