Exclusive: ‘Given so many of these victims were attacked as children by grown men, the trauma is lasting,’ says campaigner.

Maya Oppenheim, Women’s Correspondent,
The Independent, 13 December 2021

Hundreds of sexual assault and rape victims with minor criminal convictions are being denied financial compensation, The Independent can reveal.

Exclusive data shows that 895 sexual assault survivors were refused redress in the five years to 2020 – around two-thirds of whom were assaulted when they were children.

The figures, obtained by campaign group Women Against Rape, found an additional 331 victims saw their compensation curbed.

Over five years, 349 female victims were outright denied compensation because of a criminal conviction – 239 of them were children when they were assaulted. Meanwhile, 546 men were denied compensation, 380 were children at the time of the attack.

“These convictions are often for low-level offences such as shoplifting, underage drinking, and not paying a TV licence fine,” Lisa Longstaff, a spokesperson for Women Against Rape, told The Independent.

She said the statistics suggest more men than women are refused compensation due to having a criminal conviction.

“This could be to do with high-profile men facing child abuse in the press such as football coach scandals and abuse of boys in religious institutions. But always remember that more females suffer rape than males, but it remains hidden,” Ms Longstaff said.

“Women Against Rape has been working for decades with women denied compensation for violent crimes they suffered, overwhelmingly as children. This is part of the injustice of decriminalising rape and other sexual assault.

“The victims’ convictions were petty, such as for shouting at someone, and this criminal conviction usually many years later stopped them getting any compensation.”

The campaigner argued that being refused financial compensation is particularly “devastating” given compensation is the “only official acknowledgement” of their injustice in many cases.

People who are victims of a violent crime or see someone close to them fall prey to violence are eligible for financial compensation.

“Given so many of these victims were attacked as children by grown men, the trauma is lasting,” Ms Longstaff said. “Compensation can’t take away the pain, but it could have helped with the costs of their recovery and safety.”

She criticised the government for refusing to take action to overhaul the rule on convictions in the face of a great deal of pressure from both campaigners and the public in recent years.

Ms Longstaff cited the example of a woman who worked with another victim to take a private prosecution against a serial rapist and succeeded – establishing a legal precedent.

While the man was sentenced to 11 years in prison, the victim saw her financial compensation substantially reduced because she had been a sex worker.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “While unspent convictions can lead to reduced or withheld compensation to reflect the harm offenders have done to society, we are clear that victims of rape should receive the support they need.

“That is why our compensations scheme is one of the most generous in the world – paying out over £150 million to victims last year and we are further supporting victims by increasing funding for vital services to £185m a year.”