Many rape victims are losing out on criminal injuries compensation because narrow rules penalise them for having convictions for minor offences, research shows.
Others have had their awards ruled out because they were advised to delay claiming until after their attacker's trial in case they were made to look money-grubbing in front of the jury.
Dr Olivia Smith told the British Sociological Association's annual conference in Manchester today [Wednesday 5 April] that her research found that many survivors experienced obstacles in applying for compensation.
Dr Smith, of Anglia Ruskin University, asked 25 independent advisors, who have helped thousands of rape victims in their dealings with the criminal justice system, about the difficulties the claimants faced. One advisor told her that "in my opinion it is set up so that they [the judges] can find any excuse possible not to compensate."
Dr Smith, who carried out the research with Jessica Galey and Alex Tooley, said the government had ruled that compensation should not be paid to applicants who had criminal records, but it did allow Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority judges discretion where the offences were minor.
"Minor offences should not therefore be automatically used to reject claims, but the independent advisors suggested this regularly occurs," she told the conference.
"Previous research has shown that rape survivors received partial awards on the basis of non-payment of a television license, using a phone whilst driving, and breaching the peace. These offences are low-level and are unlikely to cause enough public distress to justify the government's claim that providing financial redress would be immoral.
"Our work found that almost half of the advisors said that previous convictions of claimants had presented a problem for service users gaining compensation, even when the rape defendant had been found guilty."
Some of these decisions were overturned on appeal, but claimants were so distressed by the delays that some abandoned their claims.
Dr Smith said that rape survivors were often advised by police to delay making a claim for compensation until after their attacker's trial so that their claim could not be used against them by defence lawyers in the witness box. But this risked exceeding the two-year deadline for starting the process.
"Almost all advisors we spoke to commented that survivors were told not to claim until after trial, but delays in the criminal justice system then put applications outside the two-year deadline."
One advisor told her that: "Defence lawyers use criminal injuries compensation claims of victims against them at trial... police advise victims not to claim until after the trial."
A rule that prevented victims from claiming compensation if the rapist was a family member living with the victim and the crime occurred before October 1979 was also thought unfair by many victims of child abuse, Dr Smith said.
"A renewed discussion of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme criteria is needed," said Dr Smith. "This is because there is apparent ongoing stigmatization that occurs through the assumption of false allegations and the need for blameless victims.
"Twenty-two of the 25 advisors had experienced problems with narrow eligibility rules. The findings suggest that the structures of the scheme can disadvantage survivors from more deprived backgrounds."
She said that despite the problems with the compensation scheme, most of those who received awards, set at £11,000 for rape committed by one attacker, were broadly happy with the system.
"Survivors tended to express satisfaction upon receiving an award because of the validation this provided – it can be an important source of validation and survivors are often more concerned about being acknowledged than getting a conviction."
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1. Dr Smith, (with Ms Galey, and Ms Tooley, both former Anglia Ruskin University students), interviewed three Independent Sexual Violence Advisors and surveyed 22 others, all based in England, for their research. Advisors are funded by the Home Office but work independently, based in various charities and police stations. There are around 250 in the UK. The 25 featured in this research had helped an average of 559 victims each during their work.
2. An estimated average of 16% of clients of the advisors applied for criminal injuries compensation.
3. The British Sociological Association’s annual conference takes place the University of Manchester from 4 to 6 April 2017. Around 700 research presentations are given. The British Sociological Association’s charitable aim is to promote sociology. The BSA is a Company Limited by Guarantee. Registered in England and Wales. Company Number: 3890729. Registered Charity Number 1080235 www.britsoc.co.uk