Calls For Revision To The Criminal & Civil Systems For Child Sex Abuse Victims

A report published by The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA)  is calling for reforms to improve reparations for victims and survivors of child sex abuse after their experiences were found to be “hostile, baffling, frustrating and futile”. 

Monetary gain, through compensation, from their horrendous experiences is most certainly not at the forefront of most victims’ minds, but rather another means to have their voices heard and experiences acknowledged.  With victims finding the criminal and civil systems confusing and impersonal, it further adds to the feeling of being let down by a system that should be there to protect them.

Victim AR-A87 said:

“That was the most important thing, to actually have my day in court. I wanted to face my abusers and to be believed by the court that what happened to me did happen.”

The IICSA report arose out of concern that the justice system was failing victims and looked to evidence from areas of the legal process for both the experience and outcome of victims and survivors of child sex abuse.  It also looked at how the process could be made fairer and more effective, with satisfactory reparation and redress for victims.

Identifying various elements for accountability and reparations, the report also found that none of the systems in place, either in criminal or civil system, were able to deliver all elements for victims.  For example

“prosecutions of offenders can only occur through the criminal justice system. The settlement of civil claims may occur without any admission of liability being made… and without any ‘day in court’ for victims and survivors. Even where institutions are held legally liable for the abuse, this may not amount to an acceptance of responsibility for the abuse where the claims are based upon vicarious liability. Awards by the CICA [Criminal Injury Compensation Authority] are not accompanied by any findings of wrongdoing by the perpetrators or the institutions.”

Despite both systems being able to offer some accountability and reparations for victims and survivors, for the abuse they suffered, in the civil justice system it often lead to victims feeling re-traumatised by their experiences in court.  Court procedures and legal principles are not focused on victims of child sex abuse but rather are general to all civil cases, including personal injury claims.  This may lead to victims feeling their case has not been sensitively handled, but rather have to endure an impersonal experience in court, where their years of suffering either the actual abuse or its repercussions, are accounted for.

The report also points to the fact that victims are not always aware of the right to compensation through a civil claim.  The report mentions the lack of awareness due to the police not always signposting that victims should seek legal advice on a potential civil claim or that there is the possibility of compensation, either because of lack of guidance or training.  There can also be reluctance by the police to advise victims, of a potentially civil claim, as they fear it may undermine any criminal case, with victims accused of fabricating allegations to receive compensation.

When it came to the civil justice system, the IICSA has made a number of recommendations including;

  • Revisions to the Victims’ Code to improve the signposting for compensation in civil and criminal cases
  • Victims need to be treated differently in civil cases than in other forms of civil litigation, such as PI. Victims should be treated with sensitivity and defendants should ‘recognise that the provisions of explanation, apologies, reassurance and access to specialist therapy and support’ can often be more important than financial compensation.
  • The Government should introduce legislation revising the Compensation Act 2006 to facilitate apologies, offers of treatment or other redress to victims by institutions that may be vicariously liable, as well as the perpetrators.
  • Court Procedure Rules should be amended so that judges consider the same protections to vulnerable witnesses in criminal courts that are afforded in criminal courts.
  • The Local Government Association and the Association of British Insurers should produce a code of practise to eliminate unnecessary distress to victims.
  • Revision of the Rehabilitation Code, originally designed to help personal injury claimants, or introduction of a new code, to ensure support for child sexual abuse receive support and therapy.

To view further recommendations or the details of the investigation, please click here.

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