Children born as a result of rape will be officially recognised as victims of crime in their own right for the first time under changes announced by the Government. The announcement by the Ministry of Justice explained: "At present, lack of explicit reference to people born as a result of rape in the Victims' Code makes it unnecessarily difficult for them to claim support and entitlements, such as being provided with information about their case."
The change in the law follows a recommendation from the Justice Select Committee in its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Government's draft Victims Bill in September 2022. It will be put into effect via an amendment to the Bill, and should mean that such children will be entitled to better support, including from criminal justice agencies such as the police and courts. It aims also to enable children of rape to access victim support help such as therapy and counselling, as well as advocacy services to assist with issues such as alcohol or drug misuse, and guidance on accessing education and housing benefit.
However, the cross-party Committee's report said that the Bill would have "limited effect on police and other agencies' delivery of victims' rights". It highlighted flaws in the way that 'victims' were defined, a lack of enforcement powers, and the absence of additional resources, particularly for victim liaison and counselling.
Children Born in 'Horrific Circumstances' Should Not Suffer Alone
Announcing the legal change, Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab MP said: "No child born in these horrific circumstances should be left to suffer alone, which is why we must ensure they can access vital support whenever they may need it.
"Our Victims Bill will amplify their voices and boost support for all victims at every stage of the justice system."
The move follows a rapid evidence review commissioned by the Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ), which had argued for legislation to recognise children conceived in rape, to bring their rights in line with those of other child victims. For example, under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, children do not need directly to experience domestic abuse themselves to be recognised as victims.
"Not being recognised as a victim in their own right has serious connotations for children conceived in rape, including their inability to seek legal remedy in relation to their birth origins, legal recognition of the potentially damaging impact that being conceived in rape may have had upon them, and difficulties identifying and/or accessing appropriate support services," said the review authors, Dr Vicky Butterby, an independent researcher, and Dr Kate Butterby, a postdoctoral research associate at Durham University.
Children at Risk of 'Serious and Long-Term Harm'
The review found that "children born as a result of rape are at risk of suffering serious and long-term harm due to the distressing circumstances of their birth, from infancy well into later life".
The CWJ had called for children born as a result of rape to be recognised as 'secondary victims' in the Victims' Bill, a proposal dubbed "Daisy's Law", after a woman who discovered on requesting her adoption file when she turned 18 in the 1990s that she had been born as a result of the rape of her birth mother at just 13 years of age. The rapist, then a 28-year old 'family friend' had attacked her mother as she babysat his children. He denied paternity and, despite her age, no action had been taken against him.
After a prolonged campaign by Daisy, and in the face of the police telling her that she was not a victim of the life-defining incident, in 2020 he was eventually convicted, by then in his 70s, as a result of her DNA being used as evidence by the prosecution. The judge said that Daisy was "unquestionably just as much a victim in this as her mother".
The Government and the CWJ estimate that "thousands of children are conceived from rape each year". Recognition as victims of crime will apply to children born as a result of rape whatever age they are at present.