We strongly oppose several of the principles for reform laid out in the Introduction to ‘Getting it right for victims and witnesses’. Cutting the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme flies in the face of justice and undermines all victims of crime. Compensation is very important for victims as it can be the only official acknowledgement they will get, especially if their attacker has not been charged or convicted – the experience of the overwhelming majority of victims of rape. Only 6.5% of rapes reach conviction. The money can pay for healthcare, including ‘alternative’ treatments, therapy, or additional security to make them safer.
We are particularly opposed to proposals to shift the costs of the Scheme and for support services, to people in prison (p11 and p14).
In 2011 we publicly opposed the confiscation of prisoners’ wages in order to help fund Victim Support, under the Prisoners’ Earnings Act 1996. ‘Getting it right’ states the government’s intention to force more prisoners to work so that they can take their wages. This undermines the rehabilitation of prisoners, leaving them without any money when they are released. Such a source of convenient cheap labour is exploitation, which undermines everyone’s wages.
We say the responsibility for sex crimes rests with the State, which makes us vulnerable to rape, among other things by refusing to prosecute our attackers and by cutting services and resources to make us safer. Most women and children have so few resources, and escape routes out of violence. Government cuts to benefits via the Welfare Reform Act, and cuts to Legal Aid and many community-based support services have bolstered men’s power to rape.
We oppose the proposal to cut all compensation for minor injuries – those victims will only get support services instead. This ignores the effect the crime may have had on the victim. Victims of crime should be entitled to both money and services. Services also face cuts.
The proposal that compensation for all sex crimes will be protected, rings hollow. It is not easy now to get compensation from the Scheme, many victims have been refused, unless their attacker was convicted. Often we have helped them challenge callous and discriminatory decisions and on appeal they have won. We comment more on this below.
Our responses to the Questions for Consultation
Q1 Are there groups of victims who are persistently targeted, why should they be prioritised and what are their needs?
Yes. Certain people are persistently targeted and are particularly vulnerable to violence, for example: women and children who are poor and/or homeless, asylum seekers, those with mental health problems, drug users, women and girls who have had too much alcohol, sex workers, and women who have been attacked before. A recent Mumsnet survey found that 23% of rape survivors had been raped more than four times. Repeat victims are the most likely to be disbelieved. There is a shocking double standard in the legal system which assumes previous rape reports are false and an evidence of ‘bad character’, whereas a victim of four burglaries would be offered extra protection and resources.
Q5 Should police and crime commissioners be responsible for commissioning victim support services at a local level?
No. Services must remain independent of the police. Funding decisions should be made by the local authority.
Q15 How can the processes which allow victims and witnesses to make complaints to CJS agencies be improved to make accessing redress easier?
We have helped many women complain. The public doesn’t know how to complain and needs information and expert help. Stop the cuts to legal aid which enable victims of crime to take legal action when their rights have been violated. Complaints against police, prosecutors and judges take too long to deal with and are hardly ever upheld, as the professional’s word is valued over the victim’s. In the few complaints that are upheld, the punishments are paltry compared to the devastating impact on the victim. The CJS agencies should hold their employees to account, and sack those who don’t do their job properly.
Q35 To be eligible for compensation, should applicants have to demonstrate a connection to the UK through residence in the UK for a period of at least six months at the time of the incident?
What are your views on our alternative proposal to exclude from eligibility . . . those who were not legally present in the UK at the time of the incident?
No. Non-residents are particularly vulnerable to violence. Fear of deportation already deters most from reporting it. Thousands of women and children seeking asylum have to wait years while their asylum claim are settled – the proposals would make them even more vulnerable. They would amount to a go ahead to violent men/racists to attack non-residents.
Q37-38 What are your views on our proposal not to make any award: where the crime was not reported to the police as soon as reasonably practicable? Where the applicant has failed to co-operate so far as practicable in bringing the assailant to justice?
This rule should be deleted from the Scheme. It is well-known among criminal justice agencies that sexual violence is very traumatic and that often victims find it difficult to report straight away or at all. The process of fighting for justice is so traumatic that many describe it as a second rape. Judges in rape trials now give directions to the jury not to assume a late report is a false one.
Many victims drop out during the prosecution, often because they are treated badly, or are offered no protection, and are then accused of failing to co-operate with the police. Increasing numbers of women are bullied by police into withdrawing.
Another common reason for refusal is delay in applying for compensation, past the two year limit. The CICA have displayed a cruel lack of compassion in refusing to waive the time limit. Many victims do not find out there is a Scheme until it is too late, others have concrete reasons for delay but are refused brutally. A woman we are helping appeal currently was expected to apply during the year she was giving evidence against her husband who was charged with six counts of rape. A CICA officer who reviewed the original refusal upheld it because there was insufficient proof of incapacity in her medical records. This shows shocking ignorance about both the traumatic impact of domestic rape and of giving evidence at such a trial.
At the same time, victims who do apply for compensation before or during their attacker’s trial are then accused of making a false allegation just to get compensation. It seems that whatever victims do, we are the ones who are blamed and punished.
Q41-44 What are your views on the options for limiting eligibility to the Scheme for those with unspent convictions? . . . conduct of the victim . . .
The Scheme is already biased against victims of rape. In our experience, victims have often been refused improperly by prejudiced CICA assessors. They are blamed for contributing to their attack by being drunk, on drugs, or flirting with their attacker. Legal challenges have established that women who had been drinking before rape are not to be blamed. If victims have drunk alcohol it should be acknowledged that they are more vulnerable to violence and they shouldn’t be punished for this as if it was their fault.
We’ve won appeals for sex workers and drug users who faced prejudice. Unrelated convictions or even arrests, are often a pretext to deny women help after a serious sex attack. In one appeal hearing we attended, a sex worker was told by a CICAP judge that the effects of rape were different for prostitutes, and her award was reduced by a third because of her occupation.
We have also won appeals where women and girls who were disbelieved by police, or where evidence was lost or not gathered. And we have had to challenge the prejudices of police officers, who came to give evidence against a woman. The CICA tend to believe whatever the police say, despite all the evidence that some officers are often very dismissive about rape.
Our experience is the CICA are very sexist and discriminatory. It is extremely stressful to be refused and then to have to go through the appeals process.
We have even found the CICA vindictive. One woman had her award re-claimed in 2011 when she questioned why she had only been compensated for one rape, when she suffered four rapes by her partner. She then had to go through a lengthy and stressful appeal hearing to get her original award for one rape reinstated.
Q 58 Reduce the time for appealing?
No. 90 days is already too short, especially if you are traumatised and trying to reorganise your life after a rape, particularly a domestic incident where your housing and kids are bound up with your attacker. The effects are devastating and it can take several years to get your life together.