Police chiefs have thrown their support behind a campaign to pardon crimes committed by abuse victims while under the control of their attackers.
Sammy Woodhouse, who came forward in 2013 to hand over vital evidence which exposed the abuse of thousands of children in Rotherham, has said the fear of being prosecuted for crimes they were coerced into committing is stopping victims from speaking out.
She is fighting for ‘Sammy’s law’ - which would see victims pardoned for crimes they were involved in during their exploitation.
The abuse survivor, who waived her legal right to anonymity, told Police Oracle such convictions not only discourage victims from seeking help but also make it difficult for survivors to move on.
Chief Constable of Bedfordshire Police Jon Boutcher was the first to back the campaign. His support has been echoed by several senior policing figures, including national police lead for child protection Simon Bailey, chief constables across the country and MPs.
Ms Woodhouse said: “I have three convictions from when I was being abused on my record. I have to disclose the convictions during job interviews which means I have to explain my abuse. It makes it incredibly difficult to move on.
When asked whether she believes serious offences should also be pardoned she said: “I think at first people misunderstood what I was asking for and thought I wanted all crimes to be pardoned.
“You have to look at the individual. There are some people who do continue to commit crime after they have had a traumatic experience.
“One of my convictions is for possession of a dangerous weapon in a public place. I was caught in bed with my abuser and he put a truncheon in my bag. The other two are for actual bodily harm from getting into fights.
“Do I continue to commit crime? No. Am I a danger to society? I certainly hope not. So I do believe there are circumstances in which those serious crimes should be waived.
“A Sammy’s law would mean everything to me. “
She added: “I wasn’t expecting such a huge response to be honest. After Chief Constable Jon Boutcher said he would support me it has been like a domino effect.”
CC Jon Boutcher, said in a statement supporting the campaign: “It has long been my view that those vulnerable to being exploited by the will of others should not be criminalised when their offending is under the direction and control of an exploiting hand. Our focus should be on protecting vulnerable victims and chasing down their abusers.
“It cannot be right that victims are fearful of coming forwards to the police or other organisations because to do so they are potentially placing themselves in jeopardy of prosecution. We must provide reassurances to those victims that are placed in a world of crime by their torturers and provide victims with an exit from their abuse.
“Those victims that have been exploited by such predators and deviants, that find the strength to come forward, should not be criminalised for any acts done while under the control of those who prey upon them.”
Ms Woodhouse has also written to Home Secretary Amber Rudd asking for a meeting about the campaign.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Ms Woodhouse was a victim of vile abuse and she has shown tremendous strength and courage in speaking out. We will consider Ms Woodhouse’s situation and respond to her directly in due course.
“Safeguarding vulnerable people is a top priority for this Government and that is why we are overhauling how police, social services and others work together to protect children and bring perpetrators of these heinous crimes to justice.
“We are determined to ensure that victims do not suffer in silence and feel able to come forward to report abuse and get the support that they need.”
Ms Woodhouse told Police Oracle she has not yet had a response from the Home Office and will be meeting with her MP next week to discuss the matter.