Understand how to write and record information about your child’s exploitation that can be used by the police as evidence.
If you suspect or know your child is being exploited, then collect as many details as you safely can as this will help other agencies (including the police) protect your child and take action against those involved. If the police conduct an investigation into your child’s exploitation, then they need as much information as possible about who they are associating with, where they are going and when they are missing from home.
How you gather and log information on what is happening to your child is crucial to police investigation and potential court cases. Due to the traumatic nature of child exploitation and the child witness(es)’ age and vulnerability, judges will increasingly look to what is known as corroborative evidence to support their statements in court. This includes all the information supplied by you, the parent. As it is possible that this information will be used by both the prosecution and the defence team, it is important that you systematically record all dates and times. If there is one thing you can start doing right now it is keeping a detailed, chronological, securely stored log.
How to record information correctly
Any information you note should be dated, signed by you and kept in a safe place. It may be useful to email all your observations to yourself so you have an automatic record of the time and date. An ideal scenario would be to keep notes in a bound book and backed up with a computer log, but don’t worry if you have existing notes that are not in this format. They may still be valuable and of use to the authorities.
When our problems started we were given some advice from a friendly police sergeant. We were told to write down everything that happened, times, dates, who we had spoken to, what had been said, car reg’ numbers, sightings… you name it we recorded it. Sadly in our case we didn’t get a conviction but one day there will be a court case and I know that our diaries will be a crucial part of the evidence. – Parent
The type of information that you need to record includes:
Exploiters: names, nicknames, addresses, ages, physical descriptions, typical clothing, regional accents.
Vehicles: registration numbers, partial registration numbers, vehicle make and model, colour and distinguishing features (ie bumper stickers, spoilers etc).
Technology: phone numbers, text messages, phone calls, social networking pages, games console messages.
Locations: details of places where your child may have met with exploiters or been taken to by exploiters.
Dates and times: details of when your child may have been with exploiters.
Gifts: things that your child wouldn’t normally be able to afford or you don’t know where they have come from (for example clothes, trainers, make-up, mobile phones etc).
Witnesses: people who may have witnessed your child in the company of the suspected exploiters (ie neighbours, school peers).
It may even be useful to jot down other observations such as the weather, or the dominant news story of the day. Even apparently minor details may provide crucial corroborative evidence in court.
We would regularly take our daughter’s phone after she had been missing and write down all the numbers on it and it was this that gave us and the police evidence to start tracking down the dangerous individuals. – Parent
The importance of first disclosure
If your child discloses to you sexual offences that have been committed against them, it is very important that you ring the police and report it straight away. As soon as possible, when you have some time alone after the disclosure, write down as much detail as you can and record the time and date.
The person whom the child first disclosed abuse to is regarded as a crucial witness in any resulting trial. Police officers and the Crown Prosecution Service will request a statement on ‘first disclosure’, so include as much information as possible in your written notes.
Physical corroborative evidence
- Whilst the responsibility for collecting evidence lies primarily with the police, as a parent you are uniquely placed to gather important physical evidence. Gather as much information that may help the case against the offenders. This could be:
- • Clothing your child was wearing whilst missing,
• Underwear or bedding,
• Mobile phones or screen shots of messages/emails from your child’s phone or computer,
• (With your child’s permission) take photos of any bruising or marks that you can see.
Handling physical evidence
It is important to note that physical evidence degrades over time, so should be handed to the police as soon as possible. Parents should avoid keeping items that may be of value to avoid degradation and cross contamination with other items in the household. If for whatever reason you do need to store evidence, keep it in a brown paper bag rather than plastic and be sure to mark it with the date and time.
If you hand over electronic devices to the police for forensic examination, be aware that the specialist IT team may have a backlog of several months before they can examine your child’s equipment. It is therefore helpful for both you and your child to have realistic expectations that you may not be reimbursed with your equipment for several months. This can be especially frustrating in the case of mobile phones if you are locked into a contract. You should also be prepared for the possibility that the specialist IT team is unable to access the relevant information for technical reasons.
Third party evidence may come from members of the public who have witnessed a child’s contact with suspects, eg being driven or dropped off in cars. Many parents who come to Ivison Trust have formed vital alliances with parents of other children involved in the same exploitation ring and have been able to pool intelligence on their children’s whereabouts when they are missing, for example.
However, if there is an active police investigation into your child’s case, then bear in mind that you will be advised by the police not to discuss your evidence with other people.
If your child’s school is supportive, it may be useful to share information with their Family Liaison team. Statements from teaching staff and absence logs may also be used as evidence, so it is worth building a relationship and informing staff about your concerns.
Passing on information/evidence
In theory, you should be allocated a designated officer when reporting suspected child sexual exploitation. They should be your first point of contact to update with new evidence and will advise you on how to hand in physical objects. However, some parents have reported they had no such contact, which caused frustration when they were required to constantly repeat information when handing over items. It may be helpful to record the name and collar number of every different police officer you speak to. Try to remain calm and polite and above all, persistent.
If the exploiter(s) is/are a known sex offender(s), the police may advise you to pass on the information to the local Offender Management Team, who will then manage your evidence.