Rape victims with records of minor offences regularly denied compensation

'It creates an idea of deserving and undeserving victims,' criminologist tells The Independent

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Rape victims are routinely denied compensation because they have convictions for minor offences such as failing to pay a TV licence, according to a new study.

One legal adviser who worked with victims told researchers the system was “set up so that [judges] can find any excuse possible not to compensate” victims.

The report fuelled concerns that bureaucracy and budget constraints were stopping sexual assault survivors receiving funding they needed to access essential services like housing and counselling.

A team of criminologists at Anglia Ruskin University led by senior lecturer Dr Olivia Smith asked 25 independent advisers who helped thousands of rape victims navigate the criminal justice system.

In light of her findings, Dr Smith called for the two-year time limit on claims for damages after rapes to be extended, and for an end to the practice of denying the money to sexual assault victims with convictions.

Compensation is set at £11,000 for rape committed by one attacker, but researchers found that many victims faced serious obstacles in applying for the money.

In a number of cases, they were losing out after being advised by the Criminal Prosecution Service (CPS) to delay claiming until after trial, to avoid it affecting the verdict, the study found.

Dr Smith said the Government had decided compensation should not be paid to applicants with criminal records, but it allowed Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority judges discretion where offences were not serious.

“Minor offences should not therefore be automatically used to reject claims, but the independent advisers suggested this regularly occurs,” she said, pointing to previous research showing that rape survivors have received reduced awards after failing to pay a television licence or using a phone while driving.

“These offences are low-level and are unlikely to cause enough public distress to justify the government’s claim that providing financial redress would be immoral."

Dr Smith added that almost half of the advisers her team interviewed said claimant convictions presented a problem. Some of these rulings were overturned on appeal, but the decisions nevertheless discouraged some victims from continuing their claim.

“We need to say that for sexual offences there is no issue of previous convictions, because it creates an idea of deserving and undeserving victims," Dr Smith told The Independent.

“We know that there's a link between rape and going on to commit offences, we know that victimisation and offending are tied."

The two-year time limit was putting further pressure on victims and their advisers, she said.

“Every support worker we spoke to said they have to play a game around the two-year time limit. The police and the CPS would advise them not to apply while the criminal case is going on.

“For sexual offences, given that we know it takes people a long time to come forward, it seems strange to continue with this universal approach. Sexual offences are unique in that it is very difficult to disclose.

“Having the same rule for all different types of offences within the criminal compensation scheme is disproportionately impacting on rape victims. We need to get rid of that limit."

The system was also unbalanced because of variations in the amount of experience support workers across the country had, adding that more training was needed.

“There is a lot of harm that's caused by rape, there's a lot of financial harm, it's very expensive for the victims," said Dr Smith. "We're trying to alleviate some of that harm.

“And it makes financial sense — If we leave people without the ability to get counselling, or without the ability to move out of the home that this happened in, it costs far more in the long run.”