Lucinda Connell, Newcastle’s Leading Children’s Specialist Female Family Lawyer of Major Family Law, specialist divorce and children solicitors comments the Local Government Association is calling on the next government to introduce a bill for “disruption orders” to reduce and stop child sexual exploitation (CSE). The orders would be backed by the courts and give both social workers and police a way of intervening in CSE when they suspect something is going on but cannot provide evidence to bring a criminal prosecution without a child having been already harmed.

CSE disruption orders would be designed to target people suspected of grooming children, to put safe space between them and their victims. They differ from the current Sexual Risk Orders in that they can be granted by a court on the application of local authorities and other concerned parties such as the NHS and schools, in circumstances where they can show that their concerns are sufficient that magistrates would be willing to grant them. The orders would be similar to Domestic Violence Protection Orders or Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) but tailored to the risks associated with CSE.

The orders would see anyone suspected of grooming children for sexual exploitation banned from certain types of activity, such as hanging around outside schools, for a fixed period of time, in specific instances. Victims would not be required to testify when an application for an order was heard and a breach of a CSE disruption order would be a criminal offence.

The Local Government Association refers to cases where parents have raised concerns about their children being groomed, but authorities were powerless to intervene because no criminal offence was being committed. In the recent case of Birmingham City Council v Riaz and Others [2014] EWHC 4247, the local authority used civil injunctions against men in cases where child sexual exploitation was believed to be taking place but there was insufficient evidence to bring a criminal prosecution.

Councillor David Simmonds, Chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said:

“At present sanctions to prevent the grooming of vulnerable children are too limited and 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.

We need a commitment from the next government that they will act swiftly to legislate for these orders, so no more communities will suffer the scars of child sexual exploitation. The introduction of Sexual Risk Orders is an important step in giving the police more powers but we need to extend this to the wider community if we are to tackle CSE effectively.

“We are not trying to pass a sentence before someone has been charged, nor do we intend to stop people from carrying out their normal daily activities. But we need to know children are safe from the menace of CSE and disrupting the activities of those we suspect of grooming young people can only help this.”