Campaigners and MPs demand urgent reform as child sexual abuse victims are refused compensation
Liberty, Barnardo’s, Victim Support, Rape Crisis, National Working Group, Labour MP Sarah Champion and Conservative MP Iain Stewart have written to Justice Secretary David Gauke demanding an urgent overhaul of the scheme governing compensation for victims of crime.
The Ministry of Justice has a statutory duty to compensate blameless victims of violent crime through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS).
But a number of outdated rules governing this scheme have seen survivors of child sexual abuse refused compensation on grounds they “consented”, or even because their abuser was a family member.
The letter calls on the Justice Secretary to rewrite those rules as part of his forthcoming National Victim Strategy to:
· automatically grant compensation in cases where the victim was under 13 at the time of the abuse, or where there has been a conviction
· relax the “same roof” rule which prevents survivors of sexual abuse that happened before 1 October 1979 from claiming compensation if they lived with their abuser as a member of the same family
· expand the definition of a “crime of violence” to include grooming and sexual exploitation that takes place online
· take a sensible approach to victims who have unrelated criminal convictions – who currently have their awards reduced or withheld.
Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said: “Under these archaic rules, the Government is telling children who were sexually exploited online, groomed before they reached puberty or even endured abuse at the hands of a parent that they don’t deserve compensation.
“There are no ifs or buts when it comes to child sexual abuse. If ministers really care about victims’ rights, there can be no excuses for refusing to change the rules so survivors can move on with their lives. We hope the Justice Secretary will take the opportunity offered by his forthcoming victim strategy to put this right.”
Labour MP Sarah Champion said: “The purpose of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme is to provide fair compensation to victims of crime. Sadly, too many victims are being denied by a system that appears to make it as difficult as possible to successfully pursue a claim.
“CICA has to truly be a victim focused organisation, but this does not always seem to be the reality.
“Some progress has been made, such as updating guidelines on child sexual exploitation, but there is still some way to go to ensure CICA is fit for purpose.
“The Government must respond to the concerns we have raised and take prompt action to deliver a fair and transparent system, otherwise they will continue to let down the people CICA professes to be supporting.”
Diana Fawcett, Chief Officer of the charity Victim Support, said: “Criminal injuries compensation provides vital payments for victims who have often suffered horrendous abuse. However a number of the Scheme’s rules are unfair and illogical and are seriously failing victims as a result.
“We urge the Government to build on recent progress and change the compensation rules so that victims receive the support that they need and deserve.”
Javed Khan, Barnardo’s Chief Executive, said: “We successfully campaigned for new guidelines to be introduced in October last year but the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme still needs key changes.
“Children are not being compensated for non-physical sexual abuse, such as being forced to perform sex acts online. Likewise, those abused by someone they lived with are still denied compensation if it happened before 1979.
“That even the very youngest of children who perform sex acts through fear can be considered to have ‘consented’ is not acceptable. No child can consent to abuse.
“Until the CICS as a whole is amended, a risk of injustice will remain. The Government must act now.”
Dianne Whitfield, Rape Crisis England & Wales Co-Chair, said: “Through our frontline experience of supporting individuals who have experienced child sexual abuse, rape and other sexual offences, we know how severely disadvantaged and even re-traumatised victims and survivors of these crimes so frequently are by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme in its current form.
“It's unacceptable that individuals already living with the significant, often lifelong, impacts of sexual violence can be further harmed by a scheme that's meant to compensate them in some small way for what they've been through.
“All sexual offences need to be considered in this review, including forms of online grooming and sexual abuse which can be viewed by the Scheme in its current form as 'non-violent'.
“The Scheme needs to reflect the crimes experienced in today's society and digital age.
“Rape Crisis England & Wales has continually raised concerns about the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme for many years and we believe a thorough overhaul is long overdue.”
Under current rules, the CICS compensates only those survivors who did not “in fact” consent to the crime. This has led to children who have been victims of sexual abuse being denied compensation where there was evidence to suggest they “complied” with their abuse – even if their purported compliance was through fear or lack of understanding.
This is in stark contrast with the law, which says sexual activity with a person under the age of 16 is automatically criminal, unless the victim is over 13 and the defendant reasonably believed he or she was over 16.
The CICS also refuses compensation to child victims of sexual exploitation that did not involve physical sexual contact. Its current definition of a “crime of violence” excludes serious crimes such as grooming and exploiting children to perform sexual acts online.
The MPs and campaigners are calling on the Justice Secretary to expand the definition to include all acts of child sexual exploitation, regardless of physical sexual contact.
The ‘same roof’ rule
The 1979 “same roof” rule excludes any survivor who was living with their abuser as a family member at the time of an assault from receiving compensation if the offence took place before 1 October 1979. Prior to this, no victim who had lived with their abuser was eligible under any circumstances.
Since 2015, 180 applications from victims of abuse have been refused compensation under the "same roof" rule. In some cases, this has seen siblings who endured abuse by their father receiving different compensation outcomes because some abuse happened before the cut-off date and some after. The letter urges the Justice Secretary to relax the “same roof” rule, especially in cases where siblings are treated differently because of it.
The CICS rules also state that survivors with unspent criminal convictions – however minor – must have their awards reduced or withheld. The MPs and organisations want to see the scheme take a more nuanced approach, in line with a recent High Court ruling which found that three women forced into prostitution as teenagers will no longer have to disclose related convictions to potential employers.
The letter comes after charities and Sarah Champion MP raised the issue of consent “in fact” with Mr Gauke’s predecessor last year, which led the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) to produce fresh guidance for staff in October 2017. CICA now approaches cases involving under-16s with the presumption that they did not consent, and specialist training is being provided to staff.
However, the guidelines can only interpret the flawed Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, which has its basis in statute and uses rules set by Parliament.
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Notes to editors
1. The full letter can be found here: https://www.libertyhumanrights.org.uk/sites/default/files/Joint%20Letter%20RE%20CICS.pdf
2. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme’s rules can be found here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/243480/9780108512117.pdf
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