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Tougher laws to protect children from sexual abuse Published Date: 21/02/2024

Children will be better protected from sexual predators under plans being brought forward by the Home Secretary today (Wednesday 21 February).

There will be a legal requirement for anyone in regulated activity relating to children in England, including teachers or healthcare professionals, to report it if they know a child is being sexually abused.

Those who fail to report child sexual abuse they are aware of, falling short of their legal duties, face being barred from working with young people. 

Anyone who actively protects child sexual abusers – by intentionally blocking others from reporting or covering up the crime – could go to prison for 7 years. 

By making mandatory reporting a legal requirement, the government is delivering on a key recommendation in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) report to protect children from harm and make sure authorities never again turn a blind eye to this kind of devastating crime.

In a move to further protect people from sexual predators, the police are being given greater powers to stop registered sex offenders from changing their name if they think they still pose a risk to their communities.

This will mean those who commit these despicable crimes face the full force of the law and are managed under tough measures, preventing them from offending again.

Home Secretary James Cleverly said:

There is no excuse for turning a blind eye to a child’s pain.

Having listened to the voices of victims and survivors and reviewed the work of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, we are working at pace to get a mandatory reporting duty for child sexual abuse onto the statute book.

We’re also going further, equipping the police with more powers to prevent those who have committed abhorrent sexual crimes in the past from evading the police by changing their name.

We will continue use all levers at our disposal to tackle this horrific crime and keep women and children safe.

Minister for Victims and Safeguarding Laura Farris said:

This government has introduced robust legislation for protecting children. But we know children were failed in the past, and that’s why we commissioned the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

By bringing into force a mandatory duty to report child sexual abuse – the inquiry’s principal recommendation – we are sending a clear message that children will never be let down whether in schools, sports settings or any supervised environment.

As someone who worked on the Inquiry before coming into politics this is personal to me. We will continue to support the police in the toughest crack down on anyone who poses a risk to children.

Gabrielle Shaw, Chief Executive for The National Association for People Abused in Childhood said:

NAPAC welcomes this important measure by the government that will improve safeguarding of children and increase accountability amongst those who have a duty of care.

The introduction of mandatory reporting is a big step in the right direction, which must be implemented alongside an approach that prioritises the wellbeing of the child and ensures they have access to ongoing, specialist support. This will require investment in training requirements, wider supporting structures and effective tracking and review.

National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for the Management of Violent and Sexual Offenders, Assistant Chief Constable Jonny Blackwell, said:

Managing the potential risk posed by registered sexual offenders within the community is a complex area of work for police and we work closely with partners as part of a multi-agency approach to manage these offenders every day.

UK policing has some of the most advanced and stringent tools in the world to manage registered sex offenders, however we will always seek innovative ways to continue to keep up with the changing world we work in.

Any new restrictions which enable us to more effectively manage the risk posed by offenders to the public are welcome.

Chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, Professor Alexis Jay OBE said:

I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement that measures to introduce mandatory reporting will be included in the Criminal Justice Bill. I look forward to working with the Home Secretary on the detail of this as the bill progresses.

Under the proposed changes, police will be able to issue a notice to sex offenders who continue to spark concern blocking them from changing or attempting to change their name on official documents such as passports and driving licences without their approval.

Today’s announcement builds on the UK’s existing laws to manage sex offenders, which are among the toughest in the world.

The government is also investing in a range of work to strengthen law enforcement capacity and capability to tackle child sexual abuse and exploitation. This includes:

  • £6.5 million this year for the Tackling Organised Exploitation programme (TOEX), which brings together local, regional and national data to ensure police can effectively uncover and prosecute exploitation

  • £1.9 million in the new Child Sexual Exploitation Police Taskforce, which is providing practical, expert, on the ground support for forces with a particular focus on group-based child sexual exploitation, including grooming gangs

The new measures will be introduced as amendments at report stage of the Criminal Justice Bill in the House of Commons and will apply in England and Wales.