Telford child sex abuse: MP Lucy Allan calls for laws to change
Sexual offence laws need to be updated to better protect children, Telford's MP said during a special debate in Westminster.
Lucy Allan said survivors of child sexual exploitation in the town had told her they had been asked by police and other authorities whether they had made it clear that they did not consent when they were abused.
Today she has called for changes to be made to the law so that not knowing a victim's age or not knowing they did not consent can no longer be used as a defence.
The debate in Westminster Hall, called by Ms Allan, comes as Telford & Wrekin councillors met for the first time to discuss the initial stages of the council-commissioned inquiry.
"Underage sex is an offence and consent should not be a factor," Ms Allan said.
"Grooming is coercion and it brings across a sense of control over the person. It is a process of psychological manipulation and that cannot be equated with consent.
"So how can the authorities say a victim can consent to sex with multiple men?
"These men aren't in the child's social network. These are men who are targeting girls from takeaways or restaurants. Consent must be freely given. Consent is a voluntary act."
She said the testimony of victims was being undervalued, and that victims felt that just the abuser's version of events was enough for them to be ignored.
"It should not be a defence in a CSE case to say the child victim consented or that the perpetrator would not have been aware from the victim’s actions that she did not want to have sexual intercourse," Ms Allan said.
"We have come a long way in relation to this crime, but it must now be considered if the law is protecting young people.
"We can't keep wringing our hands and saying as each case comes to light how horrific it is.
"If the law does not protect our children, then we must update the law.
"The full picture can only be given by listening to the voices of the victims."
Telford has been identified as a problem town for child sexual exploitation, following the jailing of seven men for an organised abuse ring that was broken up by West Mercia Police's Operation Chalice in 2013.
There have been claims that similar widespread abuse has happened in the town going back 30 years and that it still happens today.
Last night, six Telford & Wrekin borough councillors met at Addenbrooke House to begin the process of choosing a commissioning body for an inquiry it has called into the issue. The commissioning body will then pick an independent chair to lead the inquiry into child sexual exploitation.
A Telford & Wrekin Council-commissioned inquiry was supported by the full council on April 10. It has set aside an initial allocation of £350,000 to pay for it.
The Truth Project, part of the wider national Jay Inquiry into CSE, is also speaking to victims in Telford.