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The injustice of CICA rules

View profile for Richard Wood
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Press coverage of child abuse cases has, in recent years, helped to shed some light upon what would otherwise be a hidden and shameful episode in our history. We are all now much better informed about the terrible abuse inflicted upon children both in the distant past, recently and, sadly, today.

The consequence of this coverage is perhaps to encourage victims of abuse to talk about their experiences and to seek justice. Some will seek to recover compensation.

Occasionally a victim of abuse may be able to bring a legal action against the abuser directly and to recover compensation through the Civil Courts. In some cases where a public body or private institution has been  at fault, it might be possible to recover compensation from them.

In the majority of cases victims of abuse have only one option for claiming compensation and that is the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

Awards made by the CICA are paid out on a tariff. They are far from generous. The rarely go anywhere near providing adequate compensation to help those whose lives have been blighted by years of abuse. Nevertheless, they do represent an acknowledgement, by the state, that these children are innocent victims of crime. In some cases compensation can help the individual begin to rebuild their lives.

It is therefore shocking and distressing to those of us involved in supporting victims of child abuse that the CICA has, in recent years, refused payments to almost 700 child victims even if their attackers have been jailed.

We endorse the representations made by Barnardo’s,  Victim Support, Liberty, Rape Crisis and the National Working Group (NWG). We share in their view that CICA guidelines should be reviewed.

There are two distinct issues to be addressed. One relates to victims who were abused many years ago by family members and may find that their applications are rejected because they lived at the same address as their abuser. It is this rule that has disallowed compensation to individuals whose siblings have received awards. These children have suffered the most terrible start in life. They have been abused by the very individuals they had looked to for protection. Reviewing this rule to allow claims would reflect an acknowledgement of the terrible effect that abuse has had on victims.

In other cases the rationale behind the refusal of compensation was that the victims consented to the abuse. It is something of a bewildering anomaly that the criminal law makes it illegal to have sexual activity with anyone under the age of 16 but that the CICA can deem a 14 year old child as having consented. As Dawn Thomas, co-chair of Rape Crisis England & Wales said it is “bizarre and also inappropriate and harmful” that there is a different definition of consent between criminal law and the CICA assessment.

Any professional who has dealt with child sex abuse cases will be aware of the levels of coercion and manipulation that abusive adults can use in order to persuade children to cooperate. In many cases children cooperate with an abuser out of fear. In others the adult cynically grooms the child so that they are manipulated into situations that look like consent. From our perspective no child can consent to abuse and the CICA should acknowledge and reflect this.

We recognise that CICA compensation is money from the state. We recognise too that there are many demands on state funds. We take the view that there are few who deserve, and need, the support of the state as much as those whose childhood and innocence has been stolen from them.