Abuse Survivors Blog

5 things you need to know before breaking the silence on your child abuse

Written by Jacqui Morton on 11 Jan 2019

breaking the silence on sexual abuseSpeaking out for the first time takes great courage and it can be difficult to know where to start.  

Here are 5 things which might offer you assistance and encouragement if you are considering taking this step in 2019:

1. Speaking out for the first time – who to tell

There are many factors that prevent victims of sexual abuse from coming forward. These include guilt, shame, a fear of not being believed, a fear of reprisal or not wanting to upset family members.

Whatever your own particular reason, it is important to understand that is it not your fault and you can seek appropriate support.

Having made the decision to disclose your abuse you should choose a person who you feel comfortable telling. This may be a family member, friend, doctor or a specialist charity such as the Survivors Trust, NAPAC, NSPCC and MACSAS or the police.

Whether you decide to report to the police is your decision, although it is to be encouraged.

It may be that your disclosure encourage others to come forward or prevent others from being abused.

Understandably, you may be concerned that your complaints will not be taken seriously or that nothing can be done, especially if the abuse occurred many years ago.

Rest assured that any complaints you make to the police will be taken seriously and you will be treated with respect and sensitivity.

Police forces have specialist teams who are trained in this area and will not be shocked at what you have to tell them. An ISVA (Independent Sexual Violence Advisor) can be appointed to support you through the criminal process. If you decide to pursue a civil claim for compensation (although this may not be at the forefront of your mind at this time) a conviction (particularly where the abuse is non-recent) puts you in the strongest position possible. 

2. Time limits for bringing a civil compensation claim

The basic rule in English law is that a legal claim must be brought by a person’s 21st birthday. An adult who is harmed must bring their claim within three years from the date of the abuse or injury. This legal principle is known as ‘limitation’.

This is particularly difficult and unfair to those who have suffered abuse as a child, due to the effect of childhood sexual abuse causing a person to be inhibited from talking about their abuse until they are well into adulthood.

Judges do have discretion to allow a claim to go forward if brought at a later time, but the court must consider the injured person’s reasons for not coming forward sooner, the length of the delay and whether or not a fair trial is possible.

This is particularly difficult in cases where the abuser is dead, and where there have been no successful criminal proceedings against the abuser although not impossible.

This is the reason who a conviction is important in sexual abuse compensation claims. The time limit problem is usually the biggest hurdle to overcome when bringing a civil compensation claim.

The law is continuously changing and developing in this area and therefore it is essential that you seek the advice of a lawyer who is experienced and skilled in this area of law. 

3. The option of a civil compensation claim

The nature of abuse is that it often remains suppressed for many years. Victims of abuse are often silenced by threats from their abuser, or by the guilt and shame associated with what happened. The civil process is a way of 'speaking out'. Many people who embrace the civil process see it as a form of catharsis, and an important step in their recovery. Pursuing a civil compensation claim is about making the transition from 'victim' to 'survivor'. It can be about taking control of the effects of abuse and over the abuser, which may be empowering.

Successful sexual abuse claims result in the award of ‘damages’, or compensation.

While this can never turn back the clock, it is an important validation that you have been wronged, and can be seen as formal recognition for what has happened.

Payment of compensation can be seen as a form of an admission of guilt. Compensation can be used for expensive counselling treatment for the abuse, not readily available on the NHS. Compensation claims can also be preventive.

Civil claims against organisations such as schools and churches can lead to greater vigilance and improved social work standards and practices. Ultimately your claim could lead to better safeguarding and protection of children today and in the future. Alongside seeking proper compensation for you, your lawyer will make every effort to secure an apology if you want one.

4. Who can you claim compensation from

You can bring a legal action against the person who abused you personally, or their employer or the organisation for which they were working at the time.

The choice of ‘defendant’ in your case will be determined by a number of factors which your lawyer can fully advise you on. You can pursue a claim for compensation against the perpetrator of the abuse, whether it be a family member or friend, as an individual. It will be essential to first establish whether they have any assets eg a property with substantial equity in it, before deciding whether to take action against them. Often an individual will not have the assets to be able to sufficiently compensate you for the suffering they have caused you, and therefore a claim against them in their individual capacity may be difficult. Depending on the evidence, if they have recently died it is possible that their estate can be pursued instead.

It may be possible to bring a legal claim against the perpetrator’s employers at the time of the abuse, even if the perpetrator is not working for them anymore. If your abuser was a volunteer, such as a Scout leader or sports referee or coach, their ‘employer’ can generally be held responsible.  

The perpetrator’s employers can only be held accountable for the employee’s abuse if their actions were closely connected to the duties of their employment. The definition of ‘employee’ is wide and includes volunteers, so long as it can be said that the volunteer is carrying out the purpose of their employer’s enterprise.

Most employers and organisations have insurance which means that if you are successful, compensation will be paid by their insurance company.

5. Support

Whichever route you go down, whether a criminal investigation ensues, or whether you pursue a civil compensation claim (or both occurs), it is strongly recommended that you have in place appropriate emotional support. This support can be in the form of professional support e.g. therapy or from friends and family.

Disclosing childhood sexual abuse, which might have been “filed away” for decades, can be traumatic. The more information you can find out about the process of disclosure and what it might mean for you, the better equipped you will be.  

Our eBook found here may assist you. With appropriate support, you may find the process easier, and in the long run, you may be glad you decided to speak out.

The abuse survivors' guide

Topics: Child abuse

Jacqui Morton

Written by Jacqui Morton

Jacqui is known for her hardworking and careful approach to any legal problem, her excellent rapport with clients and professionals.