19:16, November 07 61 0 theguardian.com

2017-11-07 19:16:03
Compensation agency apologises to abuse victim for refusing claim

The government’s victim compensation agency has issued a “heartfelt” apology to a man who was groomed online and sexually abused by a string of older men from the age of 13, after refusing him compensation on the grounds he “consented” to the assaults.

The apology by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) came just weeks before the man was due to face the ordeal of giving evidence at a hearing appealing against the body’s initial decision, which was first revealed by the Guardian earlier this year.

In a letter to the man, known as HND and now aged 20, CICA’s chief executive, Carole Oatway, apologised for the way his case was handled, saying: “I am firmly of the view that you are eligible for compensation. It is clear that advantage was taken of your age and vulnerability for the purpose of sexual abuse.”

She added: “I can only imagine how traumatic your experiences have been and, although the past cannot be erased, I hope that my apology and the compensation you will receive can help you move forward in a positive way.”

HND, whose 21 abusers were found guilty of charges including sexual activity with a child, causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, and meeting a child after sexual grooming, has yet to hear how much compensation he will be awarded.

The case, which was taken up by the human rights organisation Liberty, could be the first of many in which CICA may be forced to reverse similar decisions. Last week it issued new guidelines for staff on grooming cases designed to ensure child victims of sexual abuse are not denied compensation on mistaken grounds of consent, after a campaign by a coalition of charities who revealed via freedom of information requests that the agency had refused payments to almost 700 child victims of sexual abuse. The authorities did not state how many of the claims were denied because applicants had “consented”.

HND’s father told the Guardian the family welcomed the reversal of the original ruling two years ago, but said they felt their son being blamed by a state body for what happened had made his recovery slower.

“It contradicted everything else that he’d been told,” he said. “He missed a lot of his childhood and a lot of his adolescence was marred by his experiences, so to have this agency be so difficult and intransigent was really hard. He needed self-belief and it was undermined by the first decision.”

HND, who needed psychiatric help for five years following the abuse, had said he would hate giving evidence at the appeal hearing, but had been prepared to do so to fight CICA’s original stance. “We felt so sorry for him,” his father said. “For him to have to revisit the abuse again was something he shouldn’t have been asked to do.

“We’re very, very proud of him. He’s fought his way back from a position where we thought we might lose him, literally. But a set of experiences like that ... robbed him of time. Even now he will occasionally have panic attacks.”

The abuse triggered dramatic changes in HND’s personality and resulted in him self-harming, his father said. “He was always very loving and suddenly he was seeing us as the enemy. He was an entertainer, full of good humour. That went and he became withdrawn. It was just like a complete personality change.”

CICA had refused compensation on the grounds that he “willingly” met his abusers after registering on websites for over-18s, had not been manipulated and “consented in fact” to the sexual contact.

Debaleena Dasgupta, a lawyer for Liberty who is also HND’s solicitor, said: “CICA’s recognition that HND was not responsible for having been sexually abused is extremely welcome. But it was only at the eleventh hour they conceded these appeals – with HND facing the prospect of having to give evidence about his abuse to prove he was a victim even where those responsible had pleaded guilty.

“HND should be extremely proud of having triggered changes that will hopefully stop other children and young people going through this. None of this would have been possible without his tenacity and strength.”

She called for the government to fully review the criminal injuries compensation scheme to properly support survivors of rape and abuse. “The amended CICA guidelines are welcome – but they can only interpret a flawed statutory scheme,” Dasgupta said.