A call has been made to ensure that awards for victims of crime is brought into line with the criminal law after a string of cases where children were denied payments from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) relating to sexual abuse.
Several charities – including Barnardo’s, Victim Support, Liberty and Rape Crisis – have formed a coalition and written to Justice Secretary David Lidington demanding a further review of CICA guidelines, after reports that nearly 700 child victims of sexual abuse have been refused payments since the scheme was launched in November 2012. These figures prompted a review of the guidelines which started in July, but a draft document issued in September has failed to satisfy a number of bodies.
Review of CICA guidelines called for
The main complaint is that child victims are being denied payments – which could range from £1,000 to £44,000 – on the grounds that they ‘consented’ to their own abuse, even if their attackers have been jailed. The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, has also called on Mr Lidington to re-write the child sexual abuse guidelines, drawn up by CICA, a scheme run by an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice.
Criminal law is clear in that it is illegal to have sexual activity with a child under the age of 16; it is deemed as statutory rape. However, the CICA often refuses to pay compensation to child victims on the grounds that they have consented to the abuse. Ms Longfield claims that not only is there a disconnect between the CICA guidelines and criminal law, but the revised draft rules are also at odds with the Government’s own definition of child abuse, issued in February. This stated that sexual exploitation of a child can still be abuse, even if the sexual activity appears to be consensual.
Information released by a Freedom of Information request revealed that 693 victims of sexual abuse have been refused compensation under the CICA scheme, although it should be noted that not all of these were directly due to a verdict that the minor had consented to their sexual relations. Some were denied on the basis that the child was deemed to be ‘not a direct victim of a crime of violence.’
Ministry of Justice Response
When contacted for comment on the inconsistency between their draft rules and criminal law, the Ministry of Justice referred back to a previous statement issued when the initial review was under way, which said: “Child sexual abuse is abhorrent. Our guidelines are designed to make sure that controlling and abusive behaviour is taken into account when handling compensation applications. We want to be sure that we never get these decisions wrong.
“That’s why we are reviewing our staff guidance to make sure that we identify every instance where grooming could be a factor. We are actively engaging victim support groups and relevant charities to make sure the revised guidance is as robust as it possibly can be.”
This is not being deemed as sufficient, however, and pressure is being put upon the Justice Secretary David Lidington to carry out a further review of the draft rules and to bring them into line with both the law and Government definitions. Whether this will be done or the timing of any shift in policy is presently uncertain.