Any child or young person who’s been subjected to sexual abuse has been through a traumatic and life-changing ordeal.
Despite it being a criminal offence to engage in sexual activity with anyone under the age of 16, victims had been left to feel demoralized and vulnerable after being denied compensation for their suffering by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), on grounds that they “consented” to their abuse.
Thankfully, this will now end after fresh guidelines were issued by CICA that will alter how its staff interpret the guidelines surrounding the impact of grooming. This will ensure that child victims of sexual abuse are not denied the compensation and justice they deserve.
This welcome move from CICA comes on the back of a campaign by a coalition of five charities – Barnardo’s, Victim Support, Liberty, Rape Crisis and the National Working Group – who alleged that children as young as 12 were denied compensation even when their attackers had been convicted and jailed.
They rightly argued that consent through fear or a lack of understanding should not be considered as consent because the sexual abuse suffered was a result of grooming and manipulation.
CICA, which pays out more than £140m a year in compensation to victims of violent crime, has made the decision after launching an internal review of its procedures back in July.
Under the new guidelines, a claim will still be considered on its individual merits but the new enhanced guidance advises that assessors must check for possible indicators of grooming and child sexual exploitation.
In complex cases, where a victim of sexual abuse is young or vulnerable, the file will automatically be referred to CICA’s lawyers before a final decision is made. The authority hopes the new measures will ensure that no victim is wrongly refused compensation in future.
The only instance where compensation will not be granted under the scheme is when it is clear that a child has engaged in sexual activity of their own genuine free will – and it is found that no crime of violence has occurred.
As a specialist solicitor who regularly deals with the devastating impact that sexual abuse has, I am delighted that CICA has listened to these children’s charities, and the opinions of people like myself, who have been calling for their guidance to be as clear and robust as possible.
This will now mean that more victims of sexual abuse gain access to monetary payments which are often vital when trying to secure the aftercare and support they so desperately require.
In my opinion, it was a little nonsensical to suggest that consent was given simply because of the absence of physical force. Even if a child appears to have expressed consent, it should never be assumed that this has been given – because they may have been coerced or groomed into making this decision.
The whole purpose of the CICA scheme, which we are very lucky to have in this country, is to compensate victims of violent crimes. Quite clearly, anyone who is a victim of grooming is also a victim of a violent crime and they should be able to claim under the scheme – and seek the justice they deserve – like everyone else.