Following a Freedom of Information request, the BBC has discovered that since 2010 438 of the 12,665 awarded compensation by Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, as a result of suffering abuse as children or vulnerable adults, have had their compensation cut after being convicted of crimes themselves. Most of these crimes were related to drink, drugs, theft or property offences.
Clearly nobody wants to be seen as rewarding those who commit crimes nor is there any wish to condone such crimes. However surely there has to be some understanding that just may be there is a link between a journey into criminality and lives torn apart by sexual abuse. The giving of compensation does not mark an end of a persons struggle to come to terms with what has happened to them. Learning to live with the impact of abuse is a lifetime’s work, and for some that struggle will make them more prone to commit crime.
Without wishing to excuse criminal behaviour, just punishing people is not enough. We need to understand what causes people to turn to crime and only when we address that will we begin to bring down the prison population. Victims of sexual abuse who commit crimes do not need their compensation cut but help to address what has happened to them.
Cutting compensation shows we still do not fully acknowledge the damaging impact of sexual abuse. Paying compensation is often the beginning not the end of coming to terms with what has happened. Threatening that compensation runs the risk of abusing the individual all over again; it is another mis-use of power.
Once again we are failing to take seriously the consequences of sexual abuse and the long-term impact for its victims. It is a journey in which we all still have much to learn.