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The Legal Expert

Child abuse experts believe that only five per cent of sex offenders are ever convicted of their crimes.

One American lawyer, Barbara Joel-Esam, is trying to change some of the culture surrounding sex offence trials.

As head of the NSPCC?s Justice for Children Campaign, she believes that the criminal justice system just isn?t geared to the needs of children: ?The biggest problem is children having to come to court, and the time it takes, because that puts a lot of stress on them.?

The Justice team are campaigning for an improvement in current legislation, to allow children to give all evidence on video: although a child witness can give initial evidence via a video interview, they still have to attend a court in person for cross examination by defence lawyers.

These lawyers can use hostile adult language and questioning techniques that may not be appropriate for a child. Judges and barristers also often wear traditional regalia, such as wigs and gowns, which again can intimidate a child witness.

Children and their carers need to be prepared for what goes on in court, who everyone is, what they are likely to face - in terms that they understand.

The NSPCC will try and show them the court surroundings beforehand, although not all children are so lucky. Furthermore, the organisation believes that existing policies and legislation could be tightened up and used more efficiently.

?Another problem,? says Joel-Esam, ?is that the kids have a need for therapy. However, there?s concern that it might taint their evidence. If a child does have therapy and a defence lawyer knows, they will almost certainly say in front of a jury, ?you?ve been told what to say, this has changed your story hasn?t it?? They suggest evidence isn?t safe and this is used very frequently.?

According to Joel-Esam, the CPS also says it doesn?t stop therapy, but it wants to know what type it is. ?Even though there?s no law against it, in practice there?s a lot of pressure that children and their families feel to not get therapy, because of the risk that the prosecution will fail because of it.?

?It depends on where you live, what kind of service you get as a child, which is completely wrong? ? BARBARA JOEL-ESSAMF

Often, too much is left until the day of the trial, so the NSPCC has developed a pre-trial checklist for judges and barristers to make it as comfortable a process as possible; for example, how long can a child give evidence before they need a break; what are the arrangements for breaks; what is a child?s age and maturity; who will sit with them during evidence; if video evidence will be used, can they use a TV link? and so on. But too much is still left for the day itself:

?There?s no court where everything is in place,? says Joel-Esam. And if that were not enough, the treatment you get depends on where you live: ?Part of the problem is that there isn?t any consistency across the country. It depends on where you live, what kind of service you get as a child, which is completely wrong.?

The NSPCC is pushing for proper support and preparation programmes for child witnesses. A third of child witnesses don?t get any support at all, and the rest get a whole range (variable). In Surrey, for example, every single case goes from the police to NSPCC ?but that?s unusual. It?s very much a patchwork at the moment.? The same as for treating abusers.

Joel-Esam maintains that it is difficult to quantify what is happening, ?because the statistics kept are so hopeless.? NSPCC figures are increasing for the number of children prepared by them for court, ?but it?s hard to know why.? So no-one really knows why prosecutions are failing in the numbers they do. She thinks that one Government department should be co-ordinating both the legal and other responses to child abuse. But that hasn?t happened yet - and no-one knows when it will. ?For children not to have that chapter of their life come to a conclusion is really hard on them.?

These articles were originally published in MSN NEWS

Other stories in this series:

Sex abuse: the survivor

The lasting nightmare of child abuse. Peter Saunders tells how the scars last for a lifetime.

Sex abuse: the probation officer

How to shatter the sex offending cycle. Donald Finlater helps sex offenders survive back in the community.

Sex abuse: the police

Inside Scotland Yard?s Paedophilia Unit. We?re dealing with very serious crimes warns DCI Reynolds.

Sex abuse: the mother

Whirlwind romance led to horror of child abuse. He was everything my first husband wasn?t.

Sex abuse: the legal expert

The law is failing the victims of child abuse. Barbara Joel-Essam is trying to change the culture around sex offence.

Sex abuse: the investigator

The man who catches child abusers. Abusing children is the main focus of some people?s lives.

Sex abuse: the expert

?You can buy a child for a packet of crisps?. Grim warning from Britain?s top sex crime consultant.

Sex abuse: the abuser

Abuser who claims six-year-old led him on. Convicted paedophile hasn?t yet taken full responsibility for his crimes.

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