‘Devastated’ Child Abuse Victims Allege Insensitivity By Official Body

A man whose teacher admitted abusing him over six years was told that his claim for government compensation should be kept at the lowest level because his experience was a “one-off incident” and “consensual”, the Guardian can reveal.

Steve Foster, now in his 40s, made a claim to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), the government body responsible for compensating innocent victims of violent crime. Foster, who applied after speaking out about the abuse he at one point suffered two or three times a week at boarding school, said he was “incensed” by the authority’s handling of his claim. “This was the most clear-cut case imaginable”, he says. “The man had confessed and been added to the sex offenders register. I had, on every level, been confirmed as a survivor of abuse. And they were saying I had consented.”

Foster is one of a number of victims of sexual abuse whose treatment by the CICA has caused outrage amongst lawyers and victims’ groups. In August the Guardian revealed that 14 rape victims, including a woman who said her drink had been spiked, had their compensation reduced on the basis that they had contributed to their attacks because they had consumed alcohol.

The Guardian has spoken to a number of adult victims of child abuse who say they have been left devastated by the CICA’s handling of their cases. One man who was abused by a former member of staff at a care home when he was 13 says his claim for compensation failed because his abuser had given him money and cigarettes. The man says he was “absolutely stunned” by the decision of the CICA’s predecessor, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. “It almost felt like they were saying that what happened to me was okay because I got paid for it,” he says.

The CICA said it was “committed to treating all victims of violent crime with sensitivity and courtesy at all times”. But according to the lawyer who represented Foster, experiences such as these are not isolated. “CICA is a very important institution because it says to people who have been the victim of crime, especially traumatic crime, that they have an avenue where the state will help them,” says Jonathan Wheeler, partner at law firm Bolt Burdon Kemp and treasurer of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers. “But in my experience it is a bureaucratic process whose real concern is saving money for the taxpayer.”

The experience, victims say, also extends to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel (CICAP), a separate organisation that hears oral appeals against CICA’s decisions. Having already been told in writing that his experiences of abuse were consensual, Foster nearly gave up after he had to hear this argued before the panel. “I felt sick and wanted not to go through with the hearing. After all the reassurances from friends, family and therapists telling you it’s not your fault, suddenly some bureaucrat says it is after all. I genuinely felt it was a tactic to make people who are vulnerable just say ‘Stop, I can’t go through with this any more’.”

Another applicant, Julian Whiting, had his appeal rejected by CICAP in what he felt was an insensitive process. “I was put through nearly three hours of grilling without a lawyer,” Whiting recalls. “I was expecting a friendly, relaxed atmosphere; instead it was like a courtroom.”

CICAP’s chairman, Roger Goodier, admits the lack of representation is an issue. “There are cases where applicants would feel more comfortable if there were represented,” Goodier says. “But the panel has to obtain the best evidence … sometimes this does involve probing and challenging questions, which we try to do in as sensitive a manner as possible.”

Wheeler says the current compensation system makes the victim “feel as if they have been abused twice: once by the person who abused them, and again in their treatment at the hands of the state”.