Christmas and New Year is often a time when we reflect on the past and make decisions for our future. For most of this, this is a happy time, and we resolve to make lifestyle changes and make plans for the future. For victims of sexual abuse, this time of the year can be poignant and bring back memories of times that they would rather forget.
Whilst many victims of sexual abuse continue to live in silence and fear, it is heartening that more victims of sexual abuse are speaking out. The reporting of high-profile cases in the media has helped public awareness of childhood sexual abuse. This year has seen documentaries on the sexual abuse that the Bay City Rollers suffered at the hands of their manager, and Rebekah Vardy told of the sexual abuse she suffered as a child member of the Jehovah Witness organisation. The prosecution of Stephen Bear highlighted what seems to be a growing number of cases of revenge porn.
A growing awareness and acceptance of mental health issues and the role of childhood abuse in causing mental health difficulties has also played a part in emboldening survivors to speak out.
This year has seen the government response to the Independent Inquiry into Sexual Abuse Report/Recommendations. The inquiry began in 2015 and concluded in 2022. During this time, some 7,000 victims of child sexual abuse came forward and gave their account.
- Prioritise the protection of children
- Empower children and young people
- Create a more protective environment for children
- Improve identification and reporting of child sexual abuse
- Improve the criminal justice response to child sexual abuse
- Support people who were sexually abused in childhood
- Make amends
- Respond to evolving challenges.
Following the report by the inquiry into ISA (Institutional Sexual Abuse) the government said that they would introduce a new redress scheme to ensure that victims and survivors (particularly those who were precluded from bringing a civil claim) could obtain compensation and hopefully closure. The details of the scheme, i.e. criteria and tariff, are not yet known. It is hoped that there will be more progress from the government in relation to their responses and the redress scheme in 2024.
Below are 5 points which might offer you assistance and encouragement if you are considering taking this step in 2023:
1. Why speaking out about child sexual abuse is so difficult.
There are a number of reasons that prevents victims of sexual abuse from speaking out. Each victim will have their own reasons, but it is fair to say that there are some that are common and understandably so. These include feelings of guilt and shame, a fear of not being believed, and a fear of reprisal. Some victims have already been through the criminal process and not gained the justice they so deserve. Many victims are afraid of upsetting family members and in particular elderly parents.
It is not uncommon for a victim of sexual abuse to make the decision to speak out following the death of their parents and/or close family members. Whatever your own particular reason, it is important to understand that what happened to you is not your fault, there is nothing wrong with you and appropriate support should be sought.
2. Where do I start and who do I tell?
If you decide that 2024 is the year that you will speak out, you should tell someone that you trust and feel comfortable with. This may be a family member, friend, doctor or a specialist charity such as the Survivors Trust, NAPAC (the National Association for People Abused in Childhood), NSPCC (the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) and MACSAS (the Minister And Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors).
You should also consider reporting to the police. It is your decision whether to report to the police, although it is to be encouraged, particularly where there may be safeguarding issues.
The police are there to listen to your complaints and take the appropriate action. You can report by making an online report, by telephoning 101 or walking into your local police station. Most police forces have specialist officers who will treat you with sensitivity and compassion. The police should also carry out any investigation in accordance to the Victims Code. The police will then arrange to speak to you and start collating evidence which may include a statement from the person who harmed you (if they are still alive). The CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) make the decision whether to prosecute.
The police may put you in touch with an ISVA (Independent Sexual Violence Advisor) who is a person trained to look after the needs of victims of sexual violence and abuse, both historical and current.
The police can also refer you a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), a specialist medical and forensic centre which is for anyone who has been the victim of rape or sexual assault. .
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.
3. Is compensation an option?
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' and gaining justice and closure.
Many people who embrace the civil compensation process see it as a form of catharsis, and an important step in their recovery. Pursuing a civil compensation claim can be 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 no amount of compensation will ever be truly reflective of the harm done to you, it can be important validation and represent formal recognition for what has happened. Payment of compensation can be seen as a form of an admission of guilt.
Compensation can help victims in accessing 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, something that we all welcome. 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 I claim compensation from?
You can bring a legal action against the person who abused personally, or their employer, or the organisation which they represented at the time. Who you can pursue 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 e.g. 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 legally 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.
For those victims who for whatever reason are not able to pursue a civil claim there is the option of making an application to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. This is a government funded body that compensates victims of violent crime such as childhood sexual abuse. The CICA require a victim to have reported and co-operated with the police.
5. Are there any time limits I need to be aware of?
There are no time limits in criminal law to reporting that you have been sexually assaulted – a prosecution of an alleged perpetrator can take place at any time (so long as they are still alive).
If you are considering bringing a compensation claim while it may not be impossible to bring a claim it is important to act quickly when you become aware that it is possible to bring a claim. It is essential that you seek the advice of a lawyer who is experienced and skilled in this area of law as soon as possible. The CICA also have their own time limits.
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 can be found below which may assist you. With appropriate support, you may find the process easier, and in the long run, you may feel less isolated and benefit from speaking out.
As a firm we have direct experience of the positive impact of ‘’speaking out’’ about childhood sexual abuse. By doing so and embracing the process through the criminal and/or the civil courts, this can be empowering and is seen by many as being ultimately beneficial to them.
If you wish to take that step in this New Year, we are ready to hear from you.