For many the term ‘institutional abuse’ can conjure up images of huge Dickensian establishments, like Haut de la Garenne in Jersey, where unspeakable crimes were carried out on orphan children by the very people who were entrusted with their care.
But institutional abuse can also be much ‘closer to home,’ in that it is simply the mistreatment of children or vulnerable adults by any system of power.
In this blog post we explore common causes and examples of institutional abuse and offer advice on first steps for survivors seeking justice and compensation
Why institutional abuse occurs
A common denominator of institutional abuse is that it occurs when there is an imbalance of power within an organisation. The organisation may also be systemically weak, without the proper structure or oversight.
In formal settings, institutional abuse can occur when staff are inadequately trained or poorly supervised or if they are not managed or resourced properly.
Often too there may be a ‘closed culture,’ where input from the outside is strongly resisted and where there is very little transparency within the organisation.
Where institutional abuse occurs
Institutional abuse can take place in a wide range of public organisations including:
- children’s homes
- within the NHS (including hospitals and therapeutic centres)
- in emergency children’s placements,
- in foster homes
- in group homes.
It can also often permeate non-residential environments such as:
- religious organisations and communities
- youth sport (football being a recent case in point)
- the Scouts and Cadets
- out of school activities such as drama clubs or youth groups.
Institutional abuse can also happen within families, ranging from neglect to physical and sexual abuse.
In some cases, it can involve more than one abuser who may sometimes, but not always, deliberately work together.
There may be a number of people experiencing the same abuse at the hands of one or more abusers and often without realising that they are not alone.
The longterm effects of institutional abuse
The long term effects of institutional abuse can significantly impact an abuse survivor's mental, social and physical well-being, with many experiencing ongoing issues such as:
- mental health problems
- difficulties with parenting
- problems in holding down a job
- challenges in maintaining intimate relationships
- emotional difficulties such as anger, anxiety or low self esteem
Speaking out against institutional abuse
Speaking out against institutional abuse takes great courage. The structure and leadership of the organization in which a person has been, or is being, abused is often very powerful. In many cases the organisation will want to do everything possible to protect their image.
Sometimes a survivor of institutional abuse may have mixed feelings about reporting their abuse, perhaps because they also have some good memories alongside the negative ones.
But while speaking out for the first time may seem an impossible task, when you feel compelled to do something about it there are many professionals and organisations that can assist you.
Choosing the right legal representation
The first step is to make contact with an experienced legal firm with a track record in institutional abuse compensation claims.
A suitably qualified legal team will help you to seek justice and redress, and will assist you in bringing legal action against the institution that has failed you.
Your legal representative will also strive to win you the compensation that you deserve.
It is crucial that you seek the help of a firm with extensive experience and expertise in civil compensation claims. Ideally too they will have brought cases before the courts which have attracted considerable public interest, and may even have been instrumental in changing the law.
Above all else your legal team should be approachable, sensitive and be able to assure you of their absolute confidentiality.