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Political parties must pledge to strengthen victims' rights in their manifestos

24 April 2017

Political parties must seize the golden opportunity presented by the snap 8 June election and guarantee crime victims’ rights in their manifestos after a report shows this is failing to happen.

Research by independent charity Victim Support indicates many are being denied these rights, which are enshrined under the statutory Victims’ Code.

In fact, victims are experiencing a denial of rights from the moment they report a crime to the police, during the investigation process, and when their case goes through the court system.

Furthermore, child victims of grooming are being denied compensation as official guidelines deem they have consented to prolonged sexual abuse, including rape.   
Full details are available in Victim Support’s Victim of the System report, which is being released in the House of Commons on Monday 24 April.  
Some examples include:

Police

47% of those questioned say they are unsatisfied with the way police investigated their case, 46% they were not given a clear explanation of what to expect from the criminal justice system and 26% were not aware that giving a witness statement may result in them giving evidence in court.

While there were many examples of good practice, a number of respondents say they found police officers were ‘unhelpful’, ‘rude’ or were ‘not interested’.

In other cases, respondents reported of feeling ‘let down by the police’ who put ‘very little effort into’ their case.

Despite this, victims do not have an official right to review a police decision to not investigate a crime. This is in stark contrast to the rights victims have to review a decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to prosecute their case.

Criminal courts

A number of those questioned say they are unsatisfied with measures to prevent contact with defendants or their supporter at court hearings, which can be intimidating and stressful. They were also frustrated with the length of time it takes for a case to come to trial.

Victims are also being let down when it comes to court ordered compensation, the report shows, with 44% still waiting for a payment 18 months after the defendant has been sentenced and the compensation awarded.

Criminal injuries compensation 

The report highlights the way the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) awards pay outs to victims, particularly children and victims of sexual offences.
There is growing concern child victims of sexual abuse and grooming are being denied compensation due to rules regarding consent. CICA classifies sexual assault the same as violent crime and only pays if a person did not ‘in fact’ consent.

But this disregards the law, which clearly states where a person is under the age of 16 sexual activity is automatically criminal, unless the victim is over 13 and the defendant reasonably believed he or she to be over 16.

Victim Support has seen numerous cases in which compensation has been denied on the basis of ‘apparent’ consent, including cases where vulnerable victims of child sexual exploitation have been subjected to prolonged and depraved acts of abuse, including rape. 

For example, the report highlights the story of Kate, aged 14, who was contacted on Facebook by a much older man which led to her being groomed, sexually exploited and raped over five years by a group of men. CICA ruled she would not receive compensation as ‘on the balance of probabilities (she) had not been the victim of non-consensual sexual acts’. (More details on this case are available in the notes for editors section.) 

Victim Support is keen to point out it did find many examples where the Victims’ Code was followed, but it also found numerous instances where this was clearly not the case and in some it was simply being ignored.

The research suggests victims who have not had their rights met under the code seem to see little point in making a formal complaint. In fact, out of a total of 3.5 million crimes reported during 2015/16 just three formal complaints were investigated the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO), the body charged with overseeing these.   

For these reasons, Victim Support calls for all political parties to put victims at the centre of their manifesto proposals for crime and policing by committing to strengthen victims’ rights and better protect and support vulnerable victims of crime.

Rachel Almeida, Head of Policy at Victim Support, said: 

‘Our research indicates hundreds of thousands of victims every year are quite simply being denied the treatment and respect they need and deserve as they seek justice for the harm they have suffered.

‘We are asking all political parties to ensure they write into their manifestos assurances victims will be at the heart of their proposals for crime and policing.

‘This is only fair for the millions of people each year who, through no fault of their own, become a victim of crime.’

The report also states that:

  • Police officers need training on how to respond to and question victims.
  • Victims should be given a right to review any decision not to proceed with a police investigation, which they can already do if the Crown Prosecution Service decides not to prosecute their case.  
  • Vulnerable victims, including children, should also have more choice over how and where they give evidence.
  • More should be done to prevent defence lawyers using a victim’s sexual history to discredit claims of sexual abuse at trial.
  • All victims of revenge porn should be granted anonymity in the same way as victims are in other sexual offences as without this they are less likely to report the crime. 

Notes for editors

  • The Victim of the System report questioned 390 victims online across England and Wales about the way their case was dealt with by the criminal justice system. Victim Support case workers also took part in in-depth interviews and focus groups were set up.
  • Victim Support (VS) is the leading independent charity for victims and witnesses of crime in England and Wales. In 2015/2016 VS offered support to one million people, including just over 91,000 suffering from domestic violence and 16,000 suffering from hate crime. VS also runs the national Homicide Service supporting people bereaved through murder and manslaughter, and a free Supportline. VS is a member of the Home Office’s Joint Fraud Taskforce, addressing fraud and cybercrime. The charity has just over 1,000 staff and 3,000 volunteers.

Story of Kate, aged 14

Kate was 14 when she was first contacted via Facebook by a much older man and invited to a party in the town where she lived. When Kate decided to go along, she had no idea what she was getting into.

There were a group of men at the party and at first they seemed friendly and fun. After meeting up with them a few times Kate very quickly found herself pressurised into a sexual relationship with one of them. Before long she found that she was regularly expected to have sex with the man, and if she didn’t comply she would be subject to scare tactics, manipulation and threats of violence.

The emotional and sexual abuse, including rape, that Kate suffered would continue for the next five years. When Kate finally managed to escape the abuse it took all her courage to face her abusers in court.

Her bravery, and that of the other victims of the gang, resulted in the men being sentenced to more than 30 years’ imprisonment for crimes including rape, sexual activity with a child, and sexual assault.

Kate was deeply affected by the years of abuse and exploitation she suffered at the hands of the gang. As a result of the abuse Kate started to self-harm on a daily basis and twice attempted suicide.

She was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and experienced constant feelings of guilt, fear and anger. She had difficulty sleeping and when she did sleep would frequently have nightmares.

The effect of the abuse was not just psychological but physical too – Kate has suffered from a number of urinary tract infections and has ongoing problems with abdominal pain which have resulted in a number of hospital admissions. Her GP has said that these problems are a consequence of the abuse she experienced.

VS referred Kate to a psychotherapist who found that, in addition to her depression and anxiety, she was also suffering from many of the symptoms of PTSD. Kate received therapy and also started taking antidepressants.

With VS’s help, Kate put in an application to CICA – the government agency responsible for awarding compensation to victims of serious crime. Kate had to wait many months for a response from CICA and when it arrived she was devastated by the outcome. CICA informed her that it would not be honouring her claim because ‘on the balance of
probabilities [she] had not been the victim of non-consensual sexual acts’.

The response from CICA was hugely upsetting to Kate because it implied she was somehow responsible for the abuse she suffered. This is despite the fact she was 14 at the time of the abuse and therefore unable to legally consent, and was systematically groomed by a gang intent on sexually exploiting young girls.

All of the professionals who have had contact with Kate agree that she has been sexually abused and has suffered serious consequences as a result. The local probation service calls the case in which Kate was a victim ‘one of the most serious cases we are currently working on, due to the level of exploitation and harm involved’ and further adds ‘it is very important that [Kate] is not made to feel responsible for what happened or that she is not believed. She was a minor and therefore unable to give consent. She was groomed… and the offenders were convicted.’

Please note: The name of the victim has been changed to protect her identity.

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