Education & Family

Grooming bans could stop child sex abuse say councils

Stock image of a child
Image caption Local authorities should be able to apply for banning orders for those suspected of grooming children for sex, say councillors

Councils in England and Wales want powers to combat predatory people suspected of grooming children for sex.

They want the government to introduce so-called child sexual exploitation disruption orders which councils could apply for through magistrates.

Sanctions to prevent the grooming of vulnerable children are too limited, says the Local Government Association.

It says orders could be used against anyone suspected of grooming, banning them from certain places or activities.

David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, told the BBC that, for example, suspected offenders might be banned from hanging around outside named schools, shops or restaurants at particular times or being in the company of young people.

Councils would have to apply to local magistrates to obtain the orders, says the LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales.

Evidence from abuse inquiries from Oxford to Rotherham heard that time and again, police and social workers had no means of intervening to prevent the grooming and sexual exploitation of children, until they had evidence that a child had already been harmed, it adds.

Image copyright Mark butler
Image caption Police in Oxford said they were often powerless to intervene in cases of grooming

The LGA wants the next government to introduce a bill to bring in the disruption orders in its first term.

"Few parents would be comfortable if their children were spending their time in the company of older men and coming home with expensive gifts and smelling of alcohol - but the reality is that there have been concerned mums and dads who have had to stand by, powerless, as their children have been groomed by vile sexual predators," said Cllr Simmonds.

"We need to make it easier to intervene earlier before harm is done.

"By making it possible for councils to apply swiftly to the courts for an order to disrupt grooming we can help prevent the lives of children being ruined by sexual exploitation."

'Devastating impact'

The LGA says the orders would be designed to target people suspected of grooming children, to put a safe space between them and their victims.

Victims would not be required to testify when an application for an order was heard, it adds.

The charity Barnardo's said government should do "whatever it takes" to give police and authorities the tools they needed to tackle child sexual exploitation.

"We see first-hand the devastating impact it has on young lives, families and communities," said chief executive Javed Khan.

"These recommendations from the LGA build on the findings of the parliamentary inquiry Barnardo's carried out last year. It is vital that we intervene at the earliest possible stage to prevent perpetrators from gaining influence over vulnerable young people.

"Protecting children from this manipulative abuse must always be our overriding priority."

The government said it was determined to eradicate child sexual abuse and had already taken steps to strengthen the powers of police and local services to deal with sex offenders.

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