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Abuse survivors call for sensitive and independent redress process

15 October 2020

Members of the Inquiry’s Victims and Survivors Forum speak of administrative difficulties, recompense, and emotional impact

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MOST survivors of child sexual abuse who have sought redress for their suffering have found the process to be overwhelmingly negative, new research from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) suggests.

Of the 121 members of the Inquiry’s Victims and Survivors Forum who responded to its recent survey on the topic, more than half (52 per cent) said that they had sought redress for the wide-ranging repercussions of abuse. Of the respondents who had not sought redress, most had not been aware that this was an option.

The survey, published in a report on Wednesday, was organised in place of workshops on the topic for Forum members, which had been due to take place earlier this year before the pandemic hit.

About one third of the 68 people who had sought redress (38 per cent) had opted for criminal compensation; 22 per cent had gone directly to the institution; and 13 per cent had made a civil claim. One quarter of respondents (26 per cent) said that they had gone through other routes, including contacting specific staff members at institutions, seeking support from medical professionals, and finding records about the abuse that they had suffered.

Asked what form of redress they had sought, most of the 44 respondents to this question said financial compensation (45 per cent), followed by formal support (20 per cent), or an apology or acknowledgment of the abuse (20 per cent).

In general, however, most forum members said that an apology was the most important aspect of redress. “A number of other respondents referenced the importance of an apology being accompanied by practical action to prevent further abuse,” the report states.

Asked about the overall experience of seeking redress, more than 70 per cent of the 77 respondents to this question said that it had been a negative or mostly negative experience; and 14 per cent said that it had been neither positive nor negative. Ten per cent said it had been a positive or mostly positive experience.

“Most commonly, Forum members told us that they faced administrative issues while seeking redress,” the report states. This included time-limits on reporting the abuse, and difficultly gathering evidence, both of which were problematic for victims of non-recent abuse. “Several victims and survivors were not able to access records relating to the abuse they suffered,” it states.

Even where financial compensation was awarded, some victims and survivors “were left with negative feelings about the awards. For most, this was due to a sense that the compensation did not adequately represent, or account for, the full impact of the abuse they had suffered. One summed up the impact of receiving what they felt was a small award: ‘I was left feeling that the abuse I suffered was irrelevant and minor.’”

Others spoke of the emotional impact of seeking redress. One individual reported: “[My] past experience [was] appalling, [I was] left with further distress and confusion by solicitors, social services, [and] CICA [Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority]: all organisations that are meant to support [me] caused more harm.”

The report concludes: “It was clear from the responses we received that very few had a positive experience overall.”

Most of the people who had not sought redress had been unaware that this was an option, while others had heard of redress, but had not known where to start, the research found. “For some victims and survivors, shame was the reason that they had not sought redress. Primarily, this was due to a sense that they would be judged negatively by society if they disclosed that they had been sexually abused as a child.”

Others chose not to seek redress because they did not think that they would be believed, or were sceptical about the statutory services.

Forum members said that they would like the process of seeking redress to be handled “sensitively” and independently, and that any schemes should have an accessible application process. Some said that the funding should come from the Government; others, the institution.

One individual said: “A redress scheme must be handled with compassion and empathy — those who are handling redress [should imagine walking] a mile in the shoes of the person seeking it.”

Last month, the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England approved an interim pilot scheme of redress for survivors of abuse (News, 26 September). The sum available has not been disclosed, but is believed to be in six figures. Survivors campaigning for redress had argued in the past that anything less than £250,000 would not be worth offering.

The IICSA research concludes: “The Inquiry will examine the issues raised by those who took part in this consultation. The information [that] Forum members have provided will, alongside other evidence we have heard, inform the preparation of the Inquiry’s Final Report.”

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