Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.
Too often, victims of crime are treated abominably by the very apparatus meant to protect them, the criminal justice system.
Time and time again in my own constituency of Harlow I have seen how the system has failed: domestic abuse survivors let-down, Family Court proceedings flawed, and harassment victims overlooked.
But perhaps most worrying is the fact that in so many cases, sexual assault survivors are not getting the care and support they need. All too often the system will prioritise the rights of the perpetrators over that of their victims.
Never has the above been more true than in a recent case involving a 14-year-old constituent of mine. The Harlow resident was raped by a 13-year-old boy in the autumn of last year. The offender had previously pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting five other girls in Harlow, and has also pleaded guilty to assaulting her.
Pending sentencing, and despite Essex Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) vigorously arguing against it, the judge released him on bail, with a tag. This is despite him living only 120 metres away from his victim and within the vicinity of several schools. The argument being that the perpetrator has nowhere else to stay.
However, my constituent and her family have received no real justification from the courts as to why the perpetrator has been allowed to reside so close to one of his victims.
A couple of months ago the offender was caught in breach of his bail at the top of her road. Despite a call to the police, the boy was not picked up by officers for another week and a half. Moreover, he was then released that very day, with the only bail condition being that he can no longer turn right when leaving his house.
Her mother only found this out, not from the local police or the justice system, but rather when the Centre for Action on Rape and Abuse contacted her.
Just last week, the boy was allegedly in breach of his bail again and was seen by the victim and her mother standing outside her house with no adult in sight. Understandably this terrified my constituent as, chillingly, it could have led to another attack if she had been walking alone to school that day.
Her ordeal has only continued as the bail hearing at Court was adjourned again for the third time until later this month, leaving my constituent once more in limbo. This was due to the fact that the CPS had not ‘downloaded their notes’.
This whole experience has been incredibly traumatising for my constituent and her entire family, as the process has reached no conclusion, with seemingly little compassion from those meant to protect and support her.
What should be happening is that, when victims contact the authorities, empathy should be the standard not the exception.
However, for my constituent and her family it appears that the justice system is operated by a computer programme, which consequently sees victims not as individuals who have suffered and struggled from the abuse inflicted upon them, but rather as numbers to be digitised, receiving formulaic and generic treatment.
I have seen this myself with the numerous letters I have sent to the Justice ministers regarding this case, receiving automated responses which have simply been signed-off by a minister. These civil servant regurgitations are then unhelpfully giving information and organisation links that my constituent knows about already.
My teenage constituent has suffered two major injustices: first, the traumatising sexual assault and rape, and second, being let down by the justice system.
So whilst I do not necessarily blame the ministers who sign these missives, I just cannot understand how there are not proper case reviews or channels which could offer victims a means of true and compassionate resolution after they have endured so much.
My constituent has suffered enough, and I will continue to pursue every avenue available to ensure she receives the proper justice she deserves.
The Conservatives are the party of law and order. But this should not just be about having “20,000 more bobbies on the beat”.
It must go beyond that to make sure that the criminal justice system works for everyone, regardless of their background or circumstance, to ensure that victims are treated with the utmost care and compassion.
And, when there are failings in justice, that everything possible is done to repair that damage.