Friday, July 19, 2019

Can Courts Award Compensation for Child Abuse?

Child abuse is regrettably more common than we’d like to think and the number of cases being reported is increasing. The number of children at risk of abuse who become the subject of a local authority child protection plan increased by around 11% between 2014 and 2018.

In many cases, any physical harm caused by child abuse heals in time. However, child abuse does not necessarily have to be physical for long-term damage to occur. In fact, the psychological effects of child abuse often stay with the victim well into adulthood, causing immense difficulties coping with work, relationships, and social situations.

Most people are aware that child abuse is punishable under a range of criminal offences, and the police have a duty to investigate and safeguard all children under 18.

However, fewer people realise that victims of child abuse can also make a claim under civil laws such as personal injury or negligence (if someone caring for you failed to protect you from abuse) and you could be entitled to substantial compensation for both the physical and psychological damage caused. It is also possible to make claims against a family member if they were responsible for the harm.

What is child abuse?

Child abuse is any act or omission which causes harm to a person under the age of 18. The harm does not need to be physical. It can be sexual or emotional.   Sometimes, child abuse is a direct act, such as inflicting violence, but in some cases, it’s caused by a lack of care and attention.

  • Physical – causing injuries such as cuts, bruises, broken bones, burns, or poisoning. The effects of physical abuse can be short-term (such as bruises) or long-term (such as developmental delays caused by head injuries).
  • Emotional – causing psychological damage, such as scaring, humiliating, or ignoring a child.
  • Sexual – for example, performing sexual acts on a child, forcing a child to perform sexual acts, grooming, making a child watch sexual acts or look at sexual images or videos.
  • Child Sexual Exploitation – a form of sexual abuse which involves using power over a child to manipulate them into sexual activity in exchange for things like gifts, money, drugs, or alcohol.
  • Neglect – a failure to properly look after a child, including attending to their physical and psychological needs. For example, ignoring the child, failing to feed or dress them, frequently excluding them from the home or leaving them with inappropriate carers.

Whatever kind of abuse is perpetrated, victims are often left with long-term psychological damage, including mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Victims often have difficulties dealing with their emotions and sometimes self-harm, turn to drugs or alcohol, or develop eating disorders in order to cope.

Who can claim compensation for child abuse?

Child abuse is covered by a range of criminal offences.   However civil compensation for victims of child abuse may also be available where you (or a child you care for) have been abused by a person (sometimes) in a position of trust, such as a parent, teacher, or carer.

As children are unable to start legal proceedings themselves, an adult will need to start a compensation claim on their behalf where the victim is still a child. In cases of non-recent child abuse, where the victim is now an adult, the adult can bring their own claim.

Generally, the claim will be brought against people who committed or facilitated the abuse. However, if you are unable to pursue a direct claim for any reason (for example, because the perpetrator has died), you may be able to claim compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA).

Is there a time limit for child abuse compensation claims?

The standard rule for adults who have suffered harm or injury is they have three years from the date of injury to bring a civil compensation claim. For children, a claim can be brought on their behalf any time until their 18th birthday, then they have three years (until their 21st birthday) to bring a claim themselves.

However, the courts understand that people who experience child abuse often do not speak up about their experiences until years or decades later. Reasons someone may keep quiet about child abuse include:
  • The perpetrator has made threats or convinced the child no one will believe them, instilling a fear of speaking out
  • Feelings of shame or guilt
  • Fear of the perpetrator (who may be a close family member) being punished or fear of hurting other members of the family
  • Mental health issues which make it difficult to cope with or talk about the abuse

For these reasons, the courts have exercised considerable discretion in recent years, often allowing a child abuse compensation claim even where time to bring the claim has technically run out. However, there is no guarantee that a court will exercise their discretion, so it is important to make a claim at the earliest opportunity.

The time limit for claims to the CICA is shorter, at just 2 years.

How much compensation can you claim for child abuse?

If your compensation claim is successful, you could receive compensation for:
  • General damages for pain and suffering – this includes physical injury and mental or psychological injury
  • General damages for loss of amenity – the impact the abuse has had on the victim’s quality of life, such as their ability to take part in social activities or maintain relationships
  • Financial losses and expenses – for example, for loss of earnings, limited earning capacity, the costs of any care or medical treatment, and the costs of any ongoing care or home help

The amount of compensation you receive will depend on the particular circumstances of your case, including the extent of your injuries and the impact of the child abuse on your life.

Do you need help claiming compensation for child abuse?

If you have experienced child abuse or you are the parent or guardian of a child that has been abused, it may be possible to claim compensation from those responsible for damage caused.

At IBB Claims, our specialist child abuse solicitors can provide compassionate and practical advice about bringing a civil claim for child abuse as well as guiding you through any criminal investigations and helping you access support such as therapy. We understand how difficult it can be to talk about your experiences or to contemplate having to face your abuser, so we will be by your side every step of the way, allowing you to have the best chance possible of securing compensation.  


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