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Sexual Abuse Cases Need Specialist Legal Knowledge

Over the last few months sexual abuse has been hitting the headlines. There have been stories involving the famous, such as Jimmy Saville, and the ordinary person such as teacher, Jeremy Forrest, who was sentenced on 21 June 2013 for abduction of a 15 year old girl and five charges of sexual activity with a child. 

What is common in the cases of both Jimmy Saville and Jeremy Forrest is they both used their positions of trust to influence young girls to carry out their crimes. The fact is however, to have or commit sexual acts with someone under the age of 16 is unlawful, and in the case of a teacher student relationship, the legal age is 18 years. 

Often where abuse has taken place in such circumstances the victims do not consider themselves as “victims” until many years later. This may be because they have been told by their abuser what they are doing is “normal”, or that no-one will believe them or they may have been threatened. In many cases, they can experience “dissociative amnesia” which means they are aware of the abuse and consequences, but to recall the memory would be too psychologically damaging and therefore they dissociate themselves from any memory triggers. 

Another reason may be because the “victim” believes they are in a developing loving relationship, and is unable to see they have been groomed into a way of thinking.

All victims of sexual abuse require patience and careful handling whilst they learn to accept what has happened to them, and understand they have been groomed and manipulated into a way of thinking. Abuse is not just a physical act and leaves deep psychological scars.

As well as it being a criminal offence prosecuted through the Crown or Magistrates’ Courts, victims have the right to bring a civil claim to compensate for the physical and psychological pain and suffering, as well as financial losses such as loss of earnings. This can be either be by way of a claim to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) or a  civil claim directly against the abuser or their employers, eg school, children’s home etc.

In our experience, which spans many years, cases for compensation relating to abuse require specialist knowledge and sensitive handling. Often victims do not talk of their abuse until many years later, meaning limitation period issues need to be considered.

In cases where a victim wishes to pursue a claim to the CICA the limitation period is two years from the abuse, even if they are under 18 at the time of the abuse. 

In respect of a civil claim it is three years from the abuse if the victim is over 18 at the time of abuse, or on them reaching 21 years old if they were a minor at the time of the abuse. 

However it is recognised by the CICA and the Courts in these cases it is not always possible for victims to bring their claims within those time limits, and often dispensation to proceed can be obtained if the person’s date of knowledge of the abuse is later, or if there are particular circumstances surrounding the case.

We recommend early legal advice is sought on the options available to the victim.