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Child sexual abuse victims to be granted compensation following criticism

November 6, 2017 ·  By Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent for www.theguardian.comu

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Exclusive: no victim will be denied compensation on grounds of alleged consent after previous guidelines on grooming were heavily criticised

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The new guidelines read that ‘victims may [have been] tricked into thinking that they are in a loving, consensual relationship’. Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP

Fresh guidelines have been issued to ensure that child victims of sexual abuse are not denied compensation on the mistaken grounds that they consented to a relationship.

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), which has been criticised by a coalition of charities, is altering its instructions to staff over the impact of grooming.

Five charities – Barnardo’s, Victim Support, Liberty, Rape Crisis and the National Working Group – wrote to the justice secretary, David Liddington, last July warning that sexually abused children as young as 12 were being denied payments even if their attackers had been jailed.

In some cases, the charities alleged, individuals had been told by CICA that they had consented to the abuse. The coalition urged changes so that “no child groomed and manipulated into sexual abuse is denied compensation because they complied with their abuse through fear, lack of understanding, or being brainwashed into believing their abuser loved them and developing feelings for them”.

Under the new guidelines, each claim will still be considered on its individual merits but the enhanced advice contains clear instructions for assessors to check for possible indicators of grooming and child sexual exploitation.

The new guidance for staff states: “Even if it appears that the minor expressed consent to the acts in question, it cannot be assumed that this was given because the child wanted to engage in sexual activity as this may actually be a symptom of coercive control.

“The surrounding circumstances always require to be investigated as these may indicate that the situation was abusive and the consent was not true consent.

“You should be mindful that an applicant may not realise they have been abused at the time of the incident due to the coercive effects of sexual grooming or child sexual exploitation. Victims may be tricked into thinking that they are in a loving, consensual relationship when the reality is that they are being subjected to the abuser’s coercive control.

“Only where it is clear that the sexual activity was of the applicant’s genuine free will should it be found that no crime of violence has occurred and that the sexual activity should not attract compensation under the scheme.”

Unveiling the changes, CICA’s chief executive, Carole Oatway, said: “We know that the nature of grooming can make signs of abuse particularly challenging to detect, but we are determined to make sure every victim gets the compensation to which they are entitled.

“That’s why we have listened to experts, including children charities, and are grateful for their expertise in helping make sure our guidance is as robust as it can possibly be.

“We have introduced additional safeguards and are improving staff training to ensure we get decisions right first time.”

One of the new safeguards requires complex cases involving sexual abuse, where a victim is young or otherwise vulnerable, to be automatically referred to CICA’s lawyers before any final decision is made.

Specialist training, similar to that provided to police officers, will be given to CICA staff to improve their understanding of such issues when dealing with particularly vulnerable victims.

CICA, which pays out more than £140m a year in compensation to victims of violent crime, launched an internal review of its procedures in July to develop improved guidance to decision makers handling sex abuse cases. The charities which highlighted the issue also contributed to the CICA review.

The authority said it was confident that the new measures would help ensure that no victim was wrongly refused compensation in future.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is also looking closely at the issue of compensation.

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