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Victim strategy: changes needed

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open letter, government compensation scheme, National Victims Straegy, changes needed, consent, child abuseCalls for urgent overhaul of the scheme governing compensation for victims of crime.

The Ministry of Justice has a statutory duty to compensate blameless victims of violent crime through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS).

But a number of outdated rules governing this scheme have seen survivors of child sexual abuse refused compensation on grounds they ‘consented’, or even because their abuser was a family member, and victims and survivors of other forms of sexual violence are also routinely disadvantaged by the Scheme.

Under current rules, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme compensates only those survivors who did not “in fact” consent to the crime.

This has led to children who have been victims of sexual abuse being denied compensation where there was evidence to suggest they “complied” with their abuse – even if their purported compliance was through fear or lack of understanding.

This is in stark contrast with the law, which says sexual activity with a person under the age of 16 is automatically criminal, unless the victim is over 13 and the defendant reasonably believed he or she was over 16.

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme also refuses compensation to child victims of sexual exploitation that did not involve physical sexual contact.

Its current definition of a “crime of violence” excludes serious crimes such as grooming and exploiting children to perform sexual acts online.

Rape Crisis England & Wales, Liberty, Barnardo’s, Victim Support, National Working Group, Labour MP Sarah Champion and Conservative MP Iain Stewart have written to Justice Secretary David Gauke demanding an urgent overhaul of the scheme governing compensation for victims of crime.

The MPs and campaigners are calling on the Justice Secretary to expand the definition to include all acts of child sexual exploitation, regardless of physical sexual contact.

Their letter calls on the Justice Secretary to rewrite those rules as part of his forthcoming National Victim Strategy to:

Automatically grant compensation in cases where the victim was under 13 at the time of the abuse, or where there has been a conviction;

Relax the ‘same roof’ rule which prevents survivors of sexual abuse that happened before 1 October 1979 from claiming compensation if they lived with their abuser as a member of the same family;

Expand the definition of a ‘crime of violence’ to include grooming and sexual exploitation that takes place online; and

Take a sensible approach to victims who have unrelated criminal convictions – who currently have their awards reduced or withheld.

The 1979 “same roof” rule excludes any survivor who was living with their abuser as a family member at the time of an assault from receiving compensation if the offence took place before 1 October 1979. Prior to this, no victim who had lived with their abuser was eligible under any circumstances.

Since 2015, 180 applications from victims of abuse have been refused compensation under the “same roof” rule.

In some cases, this has seen siblings who endured abuse by their father receiving different compensation outcomes because some abuse happened before the cut-off date and some after.

The letter urges the Justice Secretary to relax the “same roof” rule, especially in cases where siblings are treated differently because of it.

The CICS rules also state that survivors with unspent criminal convictions – however minor – must have their awards reduced or withheld.

The MPs and organisations want to see the scheme take a more nuanced approach, in line with a recent High Court ruling which found that three women forced into prostitution as teenagers will no longer have to disclose related convictions to potential employers.

This letter comes after charities and Sarah Champion MP raised the issue of consent “in fact” with Gauke’s predecessor last year, which led the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) to produce fresh guidance for staff in October 2017.

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority now approaches cases involving under-16s with the presumption that they did not consent, and specialist training is being provided to staff.

However, the guidelines can only interpret the flawed Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, which has its basis in statute and uses rules set by Parliament.

Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, said that under these archaic rules, the government was telling children who were sexually exploited online, groomed before they reached puberty or even endured abuse at the hands of a parent that they didn’t deserve compensation.

If ministers really cared about victims’ rights, she continued, there could be no excuses for refusing to change the rules so survivors could move on with their lives.

And Javed Khan, Barnardo’s Chief Executive, said children were not being compensated for non-physical sexual abuse, such as being forced to perform sex acts online. Likewise, those abused by someone they lived with are still denied compensation if it happened before 1979.

“That even the very youngest of children who perform sex acts through fear can be considered to have ‘consented’ is not acceptable,” Khan said.

“No child can consent to abuse.

“Until the CICS as a whole is amended, a risk of injustice will remain. The government must act now.”

To read the full letter click here.

Please forward it to your MP and ask them to support the suggested changes.

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