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Hope for Victims of Sexual Assault

View profile for Malcolm Underhill
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Hope for Victims of Sexual Assault

I may be accused of being biased and unrealistic, but I believe every victim survivor of sexual assault, whether abused as a child or assaulted when they were an adult, should receive full and fair compensation for what they were forced to endure and from which they may continue to suffer. I am always pleased for my client when I am able to obtain compensation, on their behalf, against those personally responsible, all the organisations for whom the individuals may have worked when carrying out their sexual assaults.

Government Compensation Scheme

Unfortunately, is not always possible, for a variety of reasons, to successfully obtain compensation from those who committed the wicked acts. In those cases, there is a potential fallback position, by applying for compensation under a government scheme. The government scheme will award compensation to innocent victims of crime, which includes sexual assaults upon adults and children.

What impact do Criminal Convictions have on a Compensation Claim under the Government Scheme?

However, like any scheme, there are terms and conditions, all of which have been decided upon by the government.  From time to time, over the years, I have heard governments say that the compensation scheme, to compensate innocent victims of crime, is one of the most generous in the world. Whether that is right, or not, that statement is no defence to what I see as a Draconian restriction, which definitely stops victims of sexual assault from receiving compensation, to which they are clearly entitled.    This Draconian restriction is a rule that states an award of compensation will be withheld or reduced because the applicant, making the claim for compensation, has underspent criminal convictions.

Victims of sexual assault have been denied compensation under the current scheme or have had it reduced. In some cases, individuals have not applied for compensation under this government scheme, because of the condition regarding criminal convictions.

Trauma caused by childhood abuse

Over the many years I have been helping survivors of sexual assault and child abuse, I have seen some victims, due to the trauma caused by the sexual assaults, finding themselves drifting in to crime and being punished in the criminal courts.   I have dealt with many cases where my client has committed an offence or a number of offences, some of them quite minor, all because of trauma caused by the paedophile or sexual offender.

Unfairness of the Government Compensation Scheme

This is so unfair, so unjust, and could be characterised as further abuse of an innocent victim. This rule has to change.     The government must understand the full effects of sexual abuse. If they were to do so, they will remove this dreadful restriction, this unreasonable condition that can deprive survivors of assaults of either all, or some of their compensation.

This terrible rule has been highlighted over a number of years and was brought into sharp focus by the Independent Inquiry on Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA). The IICSA recorded:

“For victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, the suffering does not stop when the abuse ends. In our investigation we found that the criminal and civil court proceedings for redress can be frustrating, hostile and ultimately futile," said Professor Alexis Jay, chair of the inquiry.

"Many are left re-traumatised and deeply unsatisfied with the often lengthy and confusing litigation."

It went on to highlight the government compensation scheme which introduced this change in 2012 as the government believed this compensation scheme, funded by the taxpayer, should not benefit offenders.

However, in 2018 the IICSA recommended this rule be revised.

In response to this recommendation the government said it would carry out a consultation. The government promised to consult on changes to the scheme, including, “considering how the scheme can better serve victims of child sexual abuse, exploring the recommendations made by the (enquiry)”.

A consultation paper was published but it did not include the issue of criminal convictions as the government had already concluded that the rule in the scheme should remain.

Government Scheme Challenged in the Courts

However, one lady has challenged the government scheme. Kim Mitchell, who waved her right to anonymity, challenged the government compensation scheme.

Her story is that she was sexually abused by a teacher at the age of eight. 27 years later that teacher was convicted of his criminal offence.  When Kim Mitchell came to apply for compensation under the governance scheme, she was told that she was not entitled to compensation because she had committed a minor public order offence.

Kim Mitchell took the government to court, seeking to argue that her minor criminal conviction should not deprive her of compensation. In August 2021 she won her case in court. The court said that Ms Mitchell had a legitimate expectation of a government consultation on this issue of previous criminal convictions.

However, it was clear that the government had made its mind up without a full and proper compensation and therefore the court ordered the government to carry out a public consultation on whether the rules relating to previous from convictions should be revised, so the applications for compensation were not automatically rejected in cases where an individual’s criminal convictions were likely to be linked to their sexual abuse as a child.

What was the Reaction from Kim Mitchell to this High Court Judgment?

Kim Mitchell’s response to the judgement of the court was that, "It shouldn't take a court case to make the government do what it has promised.

"But I'm pleased this decision means victims of child abuse like me can now tell policy makers directly how the rule affects us.

"The rule is unfair and must be changed. I hope this win allows others to feel empowered to speak out."

What was the Government’s Response to the Court Decision?

A government spokesperson said: "We have noted this judgment and will consider our next steps."

Hope for Victims of Sexual Assault

This judgement from the High Court brings hope for victims of sexual assault, where they are unable to pursue a claim for compensation directly against the paedophiles or sexual offender, or an organisation that employed the abuser. I hope the government will act quickly to carry a full consultation, so that Ms Mitchell and others, including myself, can relay their own experiences of the government scheme, making clear the link between childhood sexual abuse and criminal offending. Innocent victims of sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse should not be deprived of compensation. They deserve to be listened to and provided with compensation, as formal recognition of their suffering.

Contact our Sexual Abuse Lawyers today

If you or your child has been sexually abused, contact our no win, no fee sexual abuse solicitors now, for advice on how to make a claim for the harm caused by abuse, or to simply consider what options and possibilities are available, without any obligation. Call us today on 0333 123 9099, email or fill in our online form.

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