A child sex abuse victim who was attacked by her sister’s fiancé when she was just 10 years old has started a campaign to change the legal system that saw her abuser walk free from court.
Emily Warren* said she was assured the man would be jailed after she summoned the courage to go to police but even when he admitted the horrific crimes, he was let off with a suspended sentence, community work and a fine.
Emily, now 26, told The Independent the man had been part of her family for six years and was deeply trusted by her parents, who regularly left him to babysit.
“He was really friendly, he always made an effort,” she said. “I really liked him and trusted him.”
But when she was 10, she started becoming confused about “weird” behaviour that she could not understand at the time.
Then aged 28, he told Emily he “just wanted a hug” after he locked her into an embrace and refused to let go.
While babysitting, he told her she was “mean” when she tried to fight back as he held her down and forced her to masturbate him, claiming her parents would be annoyed if she found out.
On another occasion, he grinded his penis against her while touching her sexually. Emily remembers him waking her up in the middle of the night when she was 11 years old, asking to get in her bed for another “hug”.
Ignoring the child’s refusal, he chased her from room to room, until she managed to get to her parents.
“I went into my parents’ bedroom and asked them to get him out of my bed,” she said.
“He left straight away, and my sister, but it was never really talked about.”
It took Emily 13 years to find the courage to go to a children’s charity, who helped her finally report her attacker to the police.
In court earlier this year, he pleaded guilty to all five counts of sexual assault on a child under 13 that were brought against him and seemed sure to go to jail.
Emily said: “I had been told the week before we went to court that he should definitely go to prison, that you don’t get away with sexually abusing a child.”
But on the day of the sentencing in June, the man was handed an 18-month suspended jail term, 250 hours of unpaid work and £600 in fines and costs.
He was given a sexual harm prevention order for five years and will be on the sex offenders’ register for 10.
Emily, who was in court for the judge’s verdict, said her attacker seemed “blazé" throughout the hearing and was unconcerned as he walked free.
She had already suffered through mitigation, describing how his lawyers used the fact he had consumed alcohol to lessen his responsibility.
“In the room on the day of the sentencing it felt like everyone was trying to make excuses for him and make it out to be ok,” Emily said.
“They said he had good character and a mortgage.
“They were talking like it was more important for him to get on with his life than it was for him to be punished for what he did to me.”
The defence team even dredged up a rape charge she dropped when she was 19 to cast doubt on her own testimony.
Emily said her the boyfriend had beaten and raped her in a domestic attack. She went to police but backed down on the rape charge after being “begged” to by his mother and sister, who did not want to see him jailed.
“I was 19 and I couldn't deal with it,” she added.
Emily, who also wrote about her experiences on feminist site The F Word, said she blamed herself for the childhood abuse for most of her life, causing shame and guilt that drove her to self-harm and suffer panic attacks and flash-backs.
She drew strength through the traumatic rounds of interviews and testimony by the thought that the man who hurt her would finally be jailed, and does not feel justice has been done.
“People really underestimate what it takes to do that to a child,” Emily said. “If the judge was made to sit there at watch it he wouldn’t let someone walk away with just a fine.”
She has started a campaign calling on Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, to introduce a minimum two-year prison sentence for child sex abusers so no one can suffer the same ordeal.
Anyone convicted of sexually assaulting a child under 13 must be given a custodial sentence in the UK but, like in Emily’s case, it can be suspended to mean the attacker does not go to prison unless they break the terms of their sentence or commit another offence within a set timeframe.
Emily’s petition, which says the current guidelines are an “insult” to victims that excuses inexcusable crimes, has so far been signed by 600 people.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) pointed to statistics showing that the average prison sentence for child sex attackers has increased in recent years.
Offenders who assault under-13s went to jail for an average of 26.6 months in 2010 but that figure was 38.2 months in 2014.
The sentences for assault by penetration are far higher, carrying an average term of seven years, although the maximum is life.
“All sexual offences are abhorrent and rightly carry severe penalties,” a spokesperson for the MoJ said.
“Those prosecuted or convicted for sexual offences are the highest for a decade – convictions have increased by ten per cent in last year alone.
“Sentencing is a matter for our independent courts, who take into account all the circumstances of each case and follow sentencing guidelines issued by the independent Sentencing Council.”
*not the woman’s real name.Reuse content