01:02, September 18 90 0 theguardian.com

2017-09-18 01:02:05
Justice secretary urged to rewrite child sexual abuse guidelines

MPs have urged the justice secretary, David Lidington, to rewrite “extremely damaging” official guidance that means children as young as 12 could be held responsible for their own sexual abuse.

New rules the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) have drawn up mean some child victims of sexual assault could be refused compensation on the grounds that they “consented” even if their abuser has been jailed.

The draft guidance, published by the Guardian last week, was described by a prominent survivor of a Rotherham child-grooming ring as an “absolute disgrace” that would re-traumatise applicants.

The Labour MP Lisa Nandy called on Lidington to intervene and stop the revised CICA rules from being implemented.

In a letter to the justice secretary, Nandy said: “It is clearly inappropriate for a government agency to suggest that children have the ability to consent to sexual activity when the law is clear on this point, and sends exactly the wrong message about the seriousness with which child abuse is treated.”

It is illegal to have sexual activity with a person under 16, but the CICA does not automatically make compensation payments to all victims. The government body began a review of its guidelines in July when it emerged that almost 700 child victims had been denied payments.

It emerged this month that Sammy Woodhouse, whose evidence in court helped convict one of the most notorious leaders of the Rotherham grooming ring, was initially refused compensation when the CICA concluded that she had consented and was not manipulated.

Woodhouse said she was appalled by the revised guidance, which states that victims of child sexual abuse can still be disqualified from the scheme on the basis that “consent ‘in fact’ is different from consent ‘in law’.”

Even in cases involving children it says that “where the sexual activity is truly of the applicant’s free will no crime of violence will have occurred”.

Woodhouse said the revised rules were “a complete insult to victims and survivors” and that Lidington needed a team set up of experts including survivors to scrap and redo the guidelines”.

“They are an absolute joke and I will not be happy until my suggestions have been met,” she said. “Constant victim blaming will prevent victims from coming forward and harm them mentally even further. This is not how we should be treating victims. I am appalled.”

The revised guidance cites a number of examples of claims it suggests were not clear cut, including the case of an 18-year-old who was successfully prosecuted for having sex with a 13-year-old child.

It states: “In light of the recent concerns raised by various stakeholders about our approach we have revised and strengthened this guidance to reinforce the position that it should only be in exceptional cases that the rule would result in an applicant being ineligible for compensation where the incident involved an adult engaging in sexual activity with a child under 16.”

Nandy wrote in her letter to Lidington that the draft guidance undermines what he told MPs earlier this month. He told MPs the review would “make sure that there is no risk that a child could be disqualified from compensation because they had given consent when that consent had, in effect, been forced from them by a subtle process of grooming”.

Sarah Champion, the Labour MP for Rotherham, backed the call for Lidington to intervene and said the new guidance had compounded the issues: “It now gives justification for how to deny 12-year-olds compensation if they have been raped.

“The draft guidelines give civil servants cover for making subjective judgments that decimate people’s lives. How many victims were actually consulted on how to make the process fair?

“I find it extraordinary that CICA are ignoring the secretary of state’s clear instructions to urgently overhaul their current position. I guess this arrogance is exactly what victims and survivors face.”

A CICA spokesperson said: “Child sexual abuse is abhorrent. Our guidelines are designed to make sure that controlling and abusive behaviour is taken into account when handling compensation applications. We want to be sure that we never get these decisions wrong.

“That’s why we are reviewing our staff guidance to make sure that we identify every instance where grooming could be a factor. We are actively engaging victim support groups and relevant charities to make sure the revised guidance is as robust as it possibly can be.”