The North Wales victims are yet another sad example of the difficulties victims of sexual child abuse face in speaking out and making an allegation. Despite a police investigation and judicial enquiry which took place the 1990s, victims still struggled to find the confidence to speak out.
The challenges facing victims emerged in the HMIC report into the Savile cases which highlighted that many victims had reported the abuse to various organisations in the past but were simply not listened to or believed.
Part of the difficulty is the adversarial nature of our current criminal justice system and its failure to provide a network of emotional and psychological support for victims of abuse. The North Wales cases once again highlight the need for mandatory reporting within institutions to ensure no allegation goes unheard and unrecorded. The social stigma attached to claims of sexual abuse presents further difficulties for victims – victims feel isolated and unable to make an allegation through fear they will not be believed. This is not helped by the focus of the media on celebrity perpetrators of abuse. We cannot emphasise enough that the effects of abuse are equally devastating whether the victim has been abused by someone famous or not. What is important is that the perpetrators of the abuse are brought to justice.
This recent investigation has encouraged 76 new complainants to speak out bringing the total to 140. We understand that speaking out can be extremely distressing and upsetting for victims who will have buried these dreadful memories. We feel it is paramount that we look after those victims who are harmed and not only address the crimes of the perpetrator. For many the civil justice system is the only means by which payment can be secured for much needed psychological treatment.
The most prevalent hurdle to overcome when bringing an historic civil claim is that of limitation. For all civil claims there is a limitation period of three years in which to bring a claim which begins when a child reached 18. It is invariably the case that historic child sexual abuse claims are statute barred, meaning the three year limitation period has expired. Taken on face value this would present serious problems for victims of child abuse who have not felt strong enough to come forward until many years later. The courts recognised this problem and in the case of A v Hoare held that Claimants may be granted a Section 33 dispensation. In granting the Section 33 dispensation the court will consider, amongst other things, whether the Claimant’s psychological state following the abuse prevented him or her from reporting the allegations until many years later. This will be weighed against the Defendant’s right to a fair trial which includes a fair opportunity to investigate the allegations. It was hoped that the Section 33 discretion would encourage victims of sexual abuse to come forward. The increasing number of allegations made through Operation Pallial will add strength to the Claimants’ argument for the court to order a Section 33 discretion.
A further challenge often presented in historic sexual abuses cases is that the perpetrator of the abuse is often deceased or uninsured. Again this was recognised by the courts who extended the law of vicarious liability and allowed claims to be brought against an employing institution if the abuser is in a relationship akin to their employment.
We are encouraged to hear that victims have felt able to speak out and hope that they are able to achieve justice along with a sense of closure by doing so. At Slater & Gordon our Child Abuse Solicitors are currently working on a number of similar abuse cases and have a specialist abuse team who are familiar with dealing with historic abuse cases and understand the difficulties in speaking out. If you would like to speak to a Child Abuse Lawyer about any of the issues raised in this article or if you have been a victim of any form of abuse please contact us on 020 7657 1658/1653/1502 for free confidential advice. Any communication will dealt with in strict confidence.
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