More than 130 professionals working in the police, NHS and social work sector, charities and universities, attended the Making Justice Work for Victims of Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation conference at Leeds Trinity University on Friday 5 January.
The conference, which was hosted by Leeds Trinity's Senior Lecturer in Forensic Psychology Dr Danielle McDermott and organised in collaboration with Basis Training and Education, and Adele Gladman from Safeguarding Children, focused on responding to the challenges faced by victims of child abuse and exploitation in the Criminal Justice System.
Delegates were offered a choice of workshops and lectures from a range of high profile speakers including the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, survivors and their family members, senior representatives from central government, highly experienced practitioners, and academics sharing their practical experience and the latest research.
Adele Gladman, Safeguarding and Child Sexual Exploitation Specialist, who chaired the event, said: "There was a real need for this conference because victims of child abuse and exploitation often experience re-victimisation as a result of telling someone about their abuse. To make justice work for victims of child sexual abuse, I firmly believe that justice means justice for the people who need it most, the victims."
The conference was opened by Dee Collins, Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, who spoke of the challenges of keeping children and young people safe in a modern and digital world. She said: "It's important that agencies work together to support victims to get the justice they deserve. While we have made significant progress in recent years, I am mindful that we still have a lot to do."
A survivor of the Rotherham sexual abuse case spoke about how her life has been damaged and how she experienced re-victimisation as a result of the criminal justice process. She said: "I lost my childhood and I will carry the emotional scars throughout my life. I'm speaking here today in the hope that I can help other children."
This presentation was followed by Hannah Marsden from the charity Barnardo's who discussed how to prioritise the wellbeing of children involved in criminal justice processes relating to sexual exploitation and abuse. She said: "Our study showed the benefit of a child having a consistent one-to-one support worker throughout the process, and Barnardo's is advocating that children have this."
In the workshops, Michael Jefferson from the University of Sheffield School of Law, spoke about working for and against vulnerable victims, giving an overview of relevant legislation; Dr Agata Debowska, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Sheffield, discussed the co-occurrences of abuse and implications for practice; a father gave his perspective of a young man's journey through the criminal justice system; Dr Kate Ward, Consultant Paediatrician at Airedale NHS Trust, led a session on understanding trauma in victims of child sex abuse; Dr Danielle McDermott, Lecturer in Forensic Psychology at Leeds Trinity University, discussed the effects of trauma and abuse and its relationship to self-harming behaviours; Dr Dominic Willmott, from Leeds Trinity University, spoke about jury decision making in rape trials; and Detective Sergeant Andy Pollard, from West Yorkshire Police, discussed working with vulnerable victims and witness care models.
Dr Danielle McDermott said: "The conference was interesting and enjoyable, but also incredibly challenging and emotional. By sharing innovative work across the UK, we wanted delegates to gain unique insights from a range of perspectives to take back into practice."