Hundreds of sex assault victims refused compensation due to criminal convictions

Refusing money on basis of offence records ‘a new form of victim-blaming’, says Shadow minister

Harriet Agerholm
Monday 30 October 2017 11:07 GMT
The Government’s compensation body, CICA, has been routinely rejecting survivors’ claims when it emerges they have a conviction of any severity
The Government’s compensation body, CICA, has been routinely rejecting survivors’ claims when it emerges they have a conviction of any severity (Getty)

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Louise Thomas

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Hundreds of alleged sexual assault victims have been refused compensation because they have a criminal record, The Independent can reveal.

The Government’s compensation body, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), has been routinely rejecting survivors’ claims when it emerges they have a conviction of any severity.

Offences can range from petty crimes to more serious ones, and critics say the practice is tantamount to “a new form of victim-blaming”.

Survivors of rape and other sexual crimes are able to claim money from the Ministry of Justice’s compensation authority to help them pay for expenses associated with their attack, including counselling, improving their security or moving away from their attacker.

But figures obtained by The Independent show at least 398 alleged victims of sex abuse have been refused payments since January 2015 because they were convicted of some sort of crime.

Research into the compensation process has previously found that convictions for non-violent or minor offences, including theft or failing to pay for a TV licence, are routinely used as reasons to withhold money from alleged victims.

The Independent spoke to one woman who was convicted of drink-driving a year after she was raped by a minicab driver. She said she was scared to take taxis following the attack.

The CICA reduced her payment by 30 per cent because of the driving offence. “It was another knock down,” she said. “How does that relate to what happened to me a year before?”

The Independent’s findings come amid increased scrutiny of the CICA, an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice. In July, charities warned the body had denied hundreds of sexually abused children compensation on the grounds they gave consent. The Ministry of Justice said it was “urgently reviewing” its guidelines following the revelations.

But the MoJ has since told The Independent it was only assessing its recommendations in grooming cases and was not considering changing the basic rules of the scheme. There were no plans to stop using criminal convictions as reasons to reject victims’ claims, the MoJ said.

Data obtained from the CICA under freedom of information laws shows criminal records were a factor in refusing at least 161 sexual assault victims’ compensation in 2015. Another 106 victims with convictions were rejected in 2016 and, in the five months to 2 June of this year alone, at least 131 cases were.

The data does not account for the number of victims who had their compensation reduced rather than completely rejected.

The CICA said it was only able to give the number of rejections based on keyword searches of their database, meaning the numbers could be higher. London-based charity Women Against Rape is calling for the MoJ to make the compensation system more transparent, claiming it is withholding funds from victims on arbitrary grounds.

“You can’t tell the discrimination through the figures that are available and that’s what we would like to be able to do,” said a spokeswoman for the charity, Lisa Longstaff.

“The compensation authority has lagged behind the standards of the criminal courts because it is not subject to public scrutiny in the same way.”

CICA payments were “crucial” to victims, she said, because of the psychological effects of rape and sexual assault.

“It’s not like they need aromatherapy to make them feel better. We’re talking about serious, enduring mental health problems. It’s hard to get anything now from the NHS,” she said.

Rape can have a profound effect on a person’s circumstances and compensation money was often used to made victims feel safer, she added. “You may have been made homeless. You might not be able to function and could have dropped out of a job,” she said.

“You may need to improve your security. Or you may need to move – not that it’s enough to buy a house.”

Compensation payouts for sexual assault cases range from £1,000 to £44,000, with a victim of a rape committed by one attacker allocated around £11,000.

“You may be unable to travel – a lot of people find they can’t go out after dark or they can’t take public transport,” she added. “There’s all sorts of ways your personal freedom gets limited by such an attack – and it incurs costs.”

Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon said: “This appears to be another example of victim-blaming. Victims of serious sexual offences should not be being punished in this way by the CICA.”

As well as condemning the practice, he called for reform where there is evidence a victim’s offence is tied to their attack. “The Government must urgently review this situation to ensure that when offences are committed as a direct result of the abuse they have suffered, women receive the compensation they are due,” he said.

A spokesperson from the MoJ said: “The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme provides taxpayer-funded awards to victims of violent crime.

“As it is a taxpayer-funded scheme, it is designed to ensure the most rigorous of decision-making processes based on the full facts of the case. This includes cases where an applicant may have caused harm to another person, or committed another criminal offence.”

They said victims’ criminal convictions were not necessarily the sole factor in rejecting their compensation claims.

Rachel Almeida, Head of Policy at the independent charity Victim Support said: “That hundreds of sexual assault survivors are denied compensation because of this rule is cause for concern and can lead to the re-victimisation of some of the most vulnerable people, including victims of child sexual abuse.

“The application of criminal injuries compensation should be more proportionate so that victims of the most serious of offences are not denied compensation for what can sometimes be the most minor of convictions, such as not paying their TV licence.”

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