Insult to injury: how the criminal injuries compensation system is failing victims of crime

Consent and claims for sexual violence

Under the CICS, there is no definition of a 'crime of violence'. This omission gives the CICA and the Appeals Panel (CICAP) a lot of discretion over which crimes will qualify for an award.

Victim Support believes that this leads to unjust outcomes, particularly for those where there is no obvious sign of physical violence. This frequently occurs with sexual offences, and those who were sexually abused over a period of time are even more prone to refusal.

For example, the CICS makes a distinction between 'consent in law' and 'consent in fact'. This means that someone under the age of 16 may be denied compensation for sexual assault - even though they are under the legal age of consent - if they are thought to have agreed to sex. We are not suggesting that a 15 year-old should be eligible for genuinely consensual sex with a 15 year-old partner. However, compensation should not be denied to victims of abuse, simply because the incident is not accompanied by physical violence. The abuse of power, which leaves the victim with no choice but to consent, must be taken into account. This abuse of power should be obvious where the victim is a minor and the perpetrator is an adult.

Impact

Victim Support believes that the CICS is perpetuating an old-fashioned - and insulting - notion that physical violence is an essential component of a sexual offence. It has caused extreme distress to a number of victims who, we believe, should be entitled to compensation. Victims of abuse (and, in particular, child abuse) are some of the most vulnerable crime victims and are in particular need of protection and recognition.

The impact of these types of crime can be particularly severe and long-lasting and can affect a person's self esteem and mental health. This has been recognised by the Department of Health.4

The impact of abuse may be compounded by a refusal of a criminal injuries compensation award; and the rejection could lead to people feeling that they are not seen as worthy of society's sympathy. This flies in the face of the Government's stated commitment to help vulnerable victims and its work to review the law on sex offences.

Many victims will already feel guilty, as if they are to blame in some way. Victim Support believes that the refusal of an award on these grounds will look like confirmation of their guilt. This is the complete opposite of the message that the scheme was set up to send out.

Case study

Laura was sexually abused at school by a teacher who was twenty years older. She decided to report the crime twelve years later, after the birth of her daughter. At the end of a three-day trial, Laura's abuser was found guilty of indecent assault of a minor. Laura says the CICA rejected her claim because it did not accept that she had not consented, despite being under sixteen at the time and incapable of giving consent in law. She says she could not face an appeal, and the prospect of seeing her abuser again. Laura says what happened - her 'secret shame' - has affected every aspect of her life, and that she now trusts no-one.

How the system must change

Outcomes such as these reveal a lack of understanding of the nature of sexual offences and in particular, the role of so-called 'grooming', in cases of abuse. Grooming is a well-established tactic of abusers, and the CICS's policies should be updated to reflect this.

The current distinction between 'consent in law' and 'consent in fact' should be scrapped. As it stands, it is unfair, out-of-line with public opinion, and contrary to the criminal law. Victim Support believes that all victims of sexual offences should be entitled to criminal injuries compensation, whether or not physical violence is used.

References

4. Mainstreaming Gender and Women's Mental Health - Implementation Guidance. Department of Health, September 2003.

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