Abuse victims forum can also be ‘damaging’ to victims

Offering child abuse victims a forum to relive their experiences without any chance of justice or compensation is immoral and may cause further emotional damage, victims have told MSPs.

Ministers want to establish a national confidential forum (NCF) to “provide an opportunity for adults who were placed in institutional care as children to recount their experiences of being in care in a confidential, non-judgmental and supportive setting”.

But Holyrood’s Health Committee heard that the NCF “does not go far enough” and could make matters worse.

Victims could return “to the lion’s den” where the abuse took place and relive traumatic experiences without any offer of justice or compensation at the end, MSPs were told. Many people were reduced to tears by an NCF pilot, entitled Time To Be Heard, and regretted taking part because of the emotional trauma it caused, MSPs also heard.

Some victims are said to have felt that Time To Be Heard undermined their rights from the outset by requiring confidentiality clauses, that their testimony was not reflected in the final report and believed that official documents and court papers were ignored. Victims also questioned the decision to use Sacro, a community justice organisation which works with offenders, to conduct a pilot for victims.

David Whelan, spokesman for the Former Boys and Girls Abused in Quarries Homes group, said the NCF model “is not appropriate for vulnerable adults who have been abused”.

He said: “I think it’s immoral that you are asking survivors to resolve their issues independently. Some people have had to sign confidentiality clauses at the beginning of the process, so they are being denied rights at the beginning of the process. From the people that we represent, a lot of them came out more damaged than when they went in. We’re not criminals, we’re victims.”

Helen Holland, who has petitioned the Scottish Parliament for a compensation scheme for victims of child abuse, said: “Anybody that I know that went through that process have come out worse off. I speak to some of them and they cry every single time because they say ‘I wish I had never done it; all it did was open up a can of worms; I can’t get the lid back on now. How do I get back to sleep at night?’.

“This is where the NCF fails. You’re asking people to come forward, speak and walk out the door. People can’t do that. You cannot suffer 10 years of abuse or torture and then come forward and speak about it for one afternoon to people you have never met and are never going to see again.

“You don’t know if you’re going to get any justice at the end. You don’t know if they’re even going to take the issues on board and take them back to the institution.”