Children cannot legally consent to sexual activity; any sex involving children is a crime and the UK government knows that because the government makes the law.
Why, then, has the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) – which is an executive agency of the UK government – denied compensation to almost 700 victims of child sexual abuse on the grounds that they consented to it?
And why is the Ministry of Justice trying to kick this issue into the long grass?
It amounts to further victimisation of people who are already victims of one of the worst types of crime, and This Writer was outraged to hear of it, on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.
The report stated that a group of charities (including, I later discovered, Barnardo’s, Victim Support, Liberty, Rape Crisis and the National Working Group (NWG)) had to submit a Freedom of Information request to CICA in order to ascertain the facts.
The programme broadcast an account by one father of the effect of sexual abuse on his son, by adult men who groomed him – misled him into believing their criminal activity was a genuine expression of love – and of the amount of effort it took to bring a number of these men to justice.
The statement continued [boldings mine]: “As if it couldn’t get worse, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority then ruled that my son consented to sexual activity with his abusers, even though he was groomed and coerced into the conduct and the men were convicted of this.
“Victims of abuse don’t often speak out because they blame themselves for being abused. That is the power of grooming and something we, as a society, have to overcome if we want to prevent further abuse. But, by denying him and other child sexual abuse victims compensation, CICA are, in effect, telling children, ‘You are to blame for the abuse you have suffered.’
“This is totally wrong, and our family doesn’t want other children and parents to go through the additional pain and trauma that CICA has put us through.”
Alison Worsley of Barnardo’s, one of the charities involved, said: “It is the difference between what might happen in a criminal process, where the law very clearly states that children under 16 cannot consent to sexual activity, and the administration of a compensation scheme, where they look at the facts of a case and are saying that, on the balance of probability, there has been consent by the victim.
“That puts the blame back on the victim and tells them that we don’t believe them, when actually the point of the grooming process and the way the perpetrator manipulates children, is to mean that they don’t consent to that abuse – they can’t.”
Referring to CICA’s attitude in refusing compensation, she said: “It is appalling… The psychological impact it has on victims when they receive that letter with the cold wording that says, “No – you were to blame. You consented,” when we’ve done so much work with them to try to get them to understand that they didn’t consent… It is appalling and there needs to be an urgent review.
“The Justice Secretary [David Lidington] needs to make a change now.”
In fairness, the Ministry of Justice had provided a statement to the programme: “Child sexual abuse is abhorrent and this government is committed to doing everything that is possible to support victims. We’ll look closely at the concerns raised by these charities, that some victims aren’t getting the compensation they deserve.
“The issue of compensation for victims is currently being examined by the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse and the MoJ is contributing to its important work.” Kicking it into the long grass – as This Writer stated above.
But this isn’t even the first time the issue has been raised with the MoJ. Ms Worsley revealed that charities like Barnardo’s had been trying to talk to the Ministry for about a year, adding: “To wait for the independent inquiry to report simply isn’t good enough.
“We need to get an urgent review now. This is quite a simple issue to look at. We’re asking them to think about the rules; where there has been a criminal conviction, compensation should be awarded. Where the young person is under 13 – and the law is very clear that a 13-year-old and [those aged] under cannot consent to sexual activity, compensation should be paid. And in circumstances where there is grooming, and there is a pattern of that grooming behaviour, the compensation authority needs to look really carefully at all the facts in that case to make their decision.”
Ms Worsley added that a child who had experienced sexual activity over a number of years could be entitled to compensation of £16,500. The money could be used to give them a fresh start in a new place, away from their abusers; pay for additional therapy, for example, for post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Guardian has reported that CICA has said it is “urgently reviewing” its guidelines “to ensure they are robust enough to deal with cases where grooming may be a factor.” The paper also said compensation payouts could total as much as £44,000.
This is encouraging.
But what about those who have already been denied the compensation that is owed to them? What about the additional trauma that this has caused them?
The Woman’s Hour segment mentioned a scene in the recent TV drama Three Girls, in which one of the protagonists receives a letter from the Crown Prosecution Service, telling her that her own abuse case will not be pursued. Her mental health “unravels” from that point on, listeners were told.
And, lurking at the back of This Writer’s mind, there’s also this:
Is this simply another attempt to save money by undermining the victims of sexual crime?
I am personally acquainted with several victims of child sexual abuse. Many of them were unable even to convince the police that there was a case to answer, so they suffered the trauma described in Three Girls.
How discouraging is it for them – and anybody else in their situation – to learn that even victims who won their case in court are still being treated, not as victims, but as accomplices?
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