The vast majority of victims and survivors of non-recent abuse who have sought redress have had a negative experience, research has found.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse carried out surveys on the subject of redress and asked respondents if they had sought redress for the abuse they suffered. Of the 121 respondents, 52.1% said yes and 47.9% said they had not.
In terms of how they had sought redress, respondents replied with the following:
Those that answered “other” described different methods of seeking redress such as trying to speak to specific staff members at institutions, trying to get support from medical professionals and a few had tried to find records about the abuse they suffered.
When asked what they had received after seeking redress, respondents reported the following:
However, no one received an explanation of the action
The final question asked how respondents felt about the overall experience of redress and 74 people replied. The overwhelming majority of 52.7% said their experience was negative and 21.6% said it was mostly negative. The question revealed that 14.9% of respondents said it was neither negative or positive, 8.1% said mostly positive and just 2.7% said their overall experience was positive.
The second section asked The Victims and Survivors Forum members about their personal experiences and their views on redress schemes, both their features and how such schemes should operate.
Most commonly, Forum members told us that they faced administrative issues while seeking redress. Two challenges emerged, both of which related to Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. Firstly, CICA requires that applications for compensation must be made within two years of the crime taking place, although there are a number of exceptions to this rule. For example, claims for child sexual abuse cases, must instead be made within two years of the child turning 18.
Additionally, CICA staff have discretion to grant an extension if the applicant did not apply earlier due to exceptional circumstances. The issues that victims and survivors face in disclosing historic child sexual abuse cases can be categorised as an “exceptional circumstance”. We heard from some Forum members that they had their claims rejected on the grounds of the two year rule, however, many went through an appeals process following this judgement in order to secure a redress package.
Secondly, the time that had elapsed since the abuse also made it harder to provide CICA with the evidence required during the application process. As one individual told us, “I applied to CICA but I was turned down due to no longer having access to the police and court records because my abuse happened over 50 years ago and the records were not kept that far back. So I just gave up”.
Some victims and survivors who received financial compensation reported that they were left with negative feelings about the awards, mainly due to a sense that the compensation did not adequately represent, or account for, the full impact of the abuse they had suffered. Some thought that small awards suggested that the organisations set up to provide redress did not have a good understanding of the impact of child sexual abuse.
Many Forum members reported that there was a significant emotional impact to seeking redress. Some described the process as re-traumatising and said that it had caused them harm. A related, but distinct, issue was that some Forum members felt that they had been treated poorly by those from whom they had sought redress. This was primarily raised by those who had engaged with the institution in which they were abused, or through the civil justice system. These victims and survivors told the Inquiry that they had felt dismissed. One individual said “they only wanted to cover it up”.
Another prominent theme was that seeking redress had been a protracted and complex process. This exacerbated the negative emotional impact it could have. Many Forum members had spent years seeking redress from CICA, through the civil justice system and directly from institutions.
Very few responses revealed a positive experience overall. Nevertheless, some positive aspects were identified. A number of Forum members talked about how having their “day in court” during civil proceedings had been an important stage in their recovery process. One individual had a positive experience seeking an apology from the institution in which they were abused: “I really felt the person I met...was very, very genuine. She got on her knees and apologised on behalf of the school. She said, ‘I hope I never have to meet another situation like you went through ever again’.”
The most common reason why Forum members had not sought redress was a lack of awareness. Many revealed that the Inquiry’s consultation was the first time they became aware of the concept of redress.
A number of Forum members had not sought redress because they felt afraid, usually related to disclosing information about the abuse they had suffered. One individual said, “I was scared [that] to get redress I would have to say more than I want people to know”. Others were afraid that the process of seeking redress would be unpleasant. Some victims and survivors reported that 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.
Other Forum members had not sought redress because they felt that they would not be successful or would not receive an adequate package. Others said they felt they wouldn’t be believed. A number of other issues were discussed by a smaller number of Forum members. One issue was that several victims and survivors were not able to access records relating to the abuse they suffered. From a practical perspective, it was therefore more challenging to provide evidence of the abuse they suffered. From an emotional perspective, it had left some feeling defeated and as if there were too many hurdles to securing redress.
A majority of Forum members stated simply that an apology was the most important aspect of redress. Forum members stressed the importance of an apology feeling sincere and relevant. For some, this meant wanting to receive it from the perpetrator of the abuse they suffered, or from those who had failed to protect them from this abuse. Other victims and survivors focused more on the style of the apology, referencing the value of written communication and an emotive, personal approach.
A number of other respondents referenced the importance of an apology being accompanied by practical action to prevent further abuse. Some Forum members noted that apologies can be tokenistic, lacking substance and true engagement with the abuse that has been suffered. It was very common for respondents to discuss how important it is for the abuse they suffered to be acknowledged. Many said that they felt a deep need for their experiences to be recognised openly.
Following an apology and acknowledgement, financial compensation was the next most referenced feature of redress, with the majority of members reporting that they would use the money to access support services. Forum members commented on the difficulties they had faced trying to secure appropriate services at the appropriate time. Some stated that they wished to regain control of the process of accessing services by funding them privately.
Victims and survivors explained that suffering child sexual abuse can cause financial hardship for a number of reasons, such as their education being disrupted as a result of the abuse, and being held back in their careers due to the mental distress that has ensued.
The next most commonly discussed feature of redress was accessing support with many forum members highlighting their need for support following the abuse they suffered. There were a number of comments expressing frustration at the current levels of support available through public services. Many Forum members felt that support was necessary to help them progress in their lives, and, without it, some felt ‘stuck’.
A number of Forum members expressed an interest in the concept of ‘explanations of action,’ where an institution explains what they have done, and are doing, to prevent child sexual abuse in the future. However, no one in the Forum recorded having received such an explanation. Some respondents expressed their view that this is the form of redress with the potential to make the widest positive impact.
One individual said: “They can't undo what happened, but I'd like the organisation to acknowledge it and to show how they prevent it happening today.” Many others saw these explanations as a way to hold institutions to account.
Finally, when asked how they would like the process for seeking redress to be handled, the most common theme was that applications for redress should be handled sensitively. Other Forum members highlighted:
“Many felt that institutions in which abuse has taken place should not play an active role in a redress scheme. Independence was also cited as a way in which victims and survivors could trust a redress scheme: “total independence is key”,” the report concluded.
The Inquiry will examine the issues raised by those who took part in this consultation. The information Forum members have provided will, alongside other evidence heard, inform the preparation of the Inquiry’s Final Report.
Victims and Survivors Forum Consultation on Redress: Summary Report