Author: Malcolm Underhill
It is only recently that society has finally acknowledged the harm caused to those abused as a child. Understandably a lot of attention has been given over to improvements in safeguarding, so the mistakes of the past are not repeated. Many column inches have been devoted to abuse perpetuated by celebrities and the behaviour of institutions. Unfortunately the consequences of abuse, the harm caused as children extending into adult life, have been afforded less attention.
The purpose of this guide is to provide some information on the steps to take if you;
Financial compensation for the physical and sexual abuse on its own does not make up for years of suffering. However that compensation can be put to good use to obtain medical help on a private basis, which often becomes necessary as the NHS has limited resources to meet the demands of those with mental health challenges. The compensation can also be used as platform for a new start in life.
Whether the person now bringing a claim for compensation is an adult, who has suffered with the effects of child abuse for many years, or a parent who has recently discovered their child has been abused, they will require support. They will, already, have shown tremendous courage just to speak to someone about their experience.
If the victim of child abuse, or a parent of a minor, wishes to pursue sexual abuse compensation, they should approach a solicitor who has experience in acting for child abuse victims. The solicitor will have a detailed knowledge of the subject, beyond the letter of the law.
Dealing with your legal advisor
An experienced and sensitive child abuse solicitor will not ask you for the precise details of what happened to you at a first (or even a second) meeting. The initial meeting will seek to understand the background to when, where and how the assaults took place. Your legal advisor will appreciate the difficulties around speaking of the assaults.
Reporting the abuse to the police
The solicitor will recommend that the victim, or the parents of the child, report the allegations of abuse to the police. This is necessary as a criminal offence has been committed and, accordingly, those assaults should be investigated. A report to the police is also important for the sexual abuse compensation, as the police investigation running parallel with the victim compensation claim can assist by improving chances of success.
The police are sensitive to the effects of child abuse and therefore will assign specially trained police officers to interview the victim of the abuse.
Contact your doctor
In addition to reporting the abuse to the police, the solicitor will recommend that the victim report the child abuse to their GP. It is important that, irrespective of the claim for compensation, medical help is sought to deal with the consequences of the abuse. The effects of child abuse can be very harmful over many years, and therefore medical support is essential if the victim is to cope in the longer term. The victim’s GP will not have the training to counsel the victim, but will have access to resources and be able to point the victim of child abuse in the direction of those support services – so counselling and other therapies are made available.
It is understandable that some victims do not wish to speak about the harm done to them. Indeed, some victims never speak. Those who feel able to speak and seek help will need time to reflect on the steps that they are about to take.
Having not spoken about the abuse (in some cases) for some years, they will need to prepare themselves for talking about events that may trigger unpleasant emotions. Therefore, a consultation with their GP before a first appointment with the solicitor may assist.
Prepare a file containing records
Create a file containing records and dates of the abuse, the address of the institution and the name of the individuals involved.
Records can form part of the sexual abuse compensation claim, if only to demonstrate that an individual was a member of a club or attended a school between specific dates. All these investigations are carried out by a solicitor, not the victims of child abuse.
Some children are aware of others being abused at the same time. However, some are abused alone or without an awareness that others have also been assaulted. In any case, it will be necessary for the solicitor to track down those other victims, or others who attended the same institution (but were not abused). It is important that the victim does not seek to make contact with other alleged victims, as it may be suggested by those defending the compensation claim, that evidence has been “improved” by victims discussing their individual experiences.
Obstacles and Issues to bear in mind
Unfortunately, paedophiles rarely admit their actions and have little concern for the impact of their iniquitous ways.
Many abusers take advantage of children through their own employment or voluntary work. In those circumstances, the employer or charity may be legally responsible for the paedophile’s actions. However, without cooperation from the alleged paedophile, they too may be slow to admit legal responsibility. Consequently it may be necessary to commence legal proceedings against the paedophile and or their employer. However that does not mean the victims of child abuse have to go to trial, to win compensation, as the vast majority of cases are compromised outside court.
When pursuing sexual abuse compensation, various defences can be put up by the paedophile or their employer (or their insurers-who pay the compensation), arguing that the allegations have been brought too late, ie outside the normal three year time limit to bring such claims. (The general rule is that victim compensation claims have to be brought within 3 years of the abuse.)
However, the 3 year rule is flexible in child abuse cases, as the courts recognise the difficulties an individual may have in making allegations at the time of the assaults. However delay is still an argument that victims have to overcome, in order to recover compensation for the harm done to them. They need to explain why the allegations of abuse were not made earlier. This could include:
Keeping a long term view
To tell others that you have been abused requires great courage. It is a step that is never taken without considerable thought, and even then with some trepidation. Bringing a victim’s compensation claim is not a mechanistic process; it requires skilled work undertaken by an experienced solicitor to prove the abuser carried out the acts complained of, and/or that others in an organisation (for whom the abuser was engaged) has legal responsibility for the abuse. The solicitor will address the issue of delay, if it arises, and obtain medical evidence to demonstrate the effects of the harm done.
The police will also undertake their own inquiries that can lead to a criminal prosecution of the paedophile. All of this can cause the victim of abuse to become distressed as past memories and the trauma of the abuse can be triggered.
Obtaining support from medical and mental health professionals, charities and other support networks at the start of your child abuse claim can help prepare you for the journey ahead. As always it is important to keep the long term objective in mind. Your aim is to secure justice for the painful abuse and compensation to help you, the victim, gain the support and resources required to rebuild your life, without the abuse continuing to dominate all that you do.
Malcolm Underhill is a child abuse solicitor with experience of representing child victims and adult survivors of abuse.
For more information on obtaining justice and compensation for the abuse, please visit http://www.ibblaw.co.uk/service/personal-injury-and-clinical-negligence/child-abuse.