Submitted by Victim Support (CA 128)
Victim Support is the national charity working to help victims of crime. Each year, trained volunteers and staff based in a network of 374 Schemes offer emotional support, practical help and information to over one million victims of crimes ranging from burglary to the murder of a relative. Victim Support runs the Witness Service in every Crown Court centre in England and Wales. Here, every year, trained volunteers offer support and information to over 120,000 witnesses, victims and their families before, during and after hearings. This service will be extended to all Magistrates' Courts in England and Wales by April 2002. Victim Support also runs a telephone Supportline for victims of crime offering information and referral to local Schemes. Victim Support works to increase awareness of the effects of crime and to achieve greater recognition of victims' rights.
Do police methods of "trawling" for evidence involve a disproportionate use of resources and produce unreliable evidence for prosecution?
We do not feel able to comment on the use of resources, but we consider that few victims of past abuse in children's homes are likely to come forward during an investigation unless the police make efforts to contact them. We do not see why this method of contacting possible victims is considered likely to produce unreliable evidence, particularly as corroborating evidence will be required for a successful prosecution. We suggest that fabrication of evidence happens only rarely, and that this is also likely to occur when evidence is gathered by other means.
It is an extremely daunting prospect for an adult who experienced abuse as a child to face the ordeal of a police investigation and the prospect of giving evidence in court. Being approached by the police (which is in effect a sincere gesture of concern) is something that might help many victims take the first step in that process.
Is the Crown Prosecution Service drawing a sensible line about which cases should be prosecuted?
There is much public interest in prosecuting these offences, which involve the grossest breach of trust by adults against vulnerable children. The public interest factor might compensate for the weaker nature of the evidence in many of these investigations. We suggest that the CPS should be careful about downgrading charges, which can cause victims to feel their experience has been trivialised. If charges must be downgraded, it is important that victims are informed personally by staff who are trained in how to convey this information sensitively.
Is there a risk that the advertisement of prospective awards of compensation in child abuse cases encourages people to come forward with fabricated allegations?
The longer the period between the offence and the investigation, the more difficult it becomes for compensation to be obtained. The likelihood of compensation claims succeeding may be so remote that people are unlikely to be attracted to the idea of making false allegations. Only a minority of victims receive compensation. The process of making a claim is much more difficult than most people realise. In the year 1999-2000, the police recorded 703,105 violent crimes but there were only 39,700 successful applications for criminal injuries compensation. Again, corroborating evidence is required, so making an allegation is in itself insufficient to obtain compensation. While a very small number of false claims might be made, this in itself would be no reason to withhold the prospect of a just settlement from the vast majority of victims whose experience is genuine.
Is there a weakness in the current law on "similar fact" evidence?
The Law Commission have studied this issue and we believe there are merits to their recently published recommendations. We would comment that offenders who abuse children tend to "groom" them to make them more susceptible to being abused. This grooming follows very distinct patterns, which are often particular to each offender. Grooming is not a feature of many other types of offending (burglars, for example, do not need to groom householders in order to commit a successful burglary). Similar fact evidence may therefore be particularly relevant in cases of child abuse, where a past modus operandi might be very relevant evidence in a current prosecution.
Should there be a limitin terms of the number of years since the alleged offence took placeon prosecution of cases of child abuse?
There should be no such limit. Evidence becomes harder to obtain as the years pass, and any limit would be arbitrary. Many victims will have struggled to put their experience to the back of their minds, and the trigger to remembering what happened to them can come many years later, perhaps as a result of becoming parents themselves and feeling powerless in protecting their own children against a new threat. The CPS should be free to weigh up the evidence in the usual way. There is a major problem in police, social services, probation services etc destroying records. We have found that many records prior to 1985 have been destroyed, and this makes it almost impossible for victims of past abuse to substantiate compensation claims. So in effect, this has already created a limit in terms of the number of years. We suggest that the inquiry should make recommendations as to the retention of records and should call for the formats in which files can be economically stored (electronically, microfiche etc) to be investigated.
What factors tend to inhibit victims of child abuse from coming forward with timely allegations of abuse?
Research shows that children tend not to report crimes committed against them because they feel it is unlikely they will be believed, they fear that their experiences will be trivialised, and they believe they will be treated more like offenders than victims. These expectations are unlikely to change as children enter adulthood, and the particularly sensitive nature of the victimisation will increase their fears about the painful consequences of not being believed. Furthermore, for victims of child abuse, these additional factors will often apply:
Normalisationas a result of the offender's grooming, the victim is led to believe that the offence was normal adult behaviour and they therefore do not identify themselves as victims.
Guiltgrooming is such a powerful process that many offenders succeed in leading their victims to believe that they (the victims) were equally culpable.
Difficulties in making therapy available to victims who are to be witnesses in a prosecution will be an inhibitor.
The treatment of victims and witnesses during the course of the investigation and court case (being interviewed by the police, being cross-examined in court etc). Few victims are likely to know about special measures for vulnerable witnesses, unless they have already been in contact with Victim Support or the Witness Service (additional publicity for Victim Support and the Witness Service might help victims come forward).
The effects of crime as experienced during childhood persist into adulthood, but there are few organisations available for supporting adults who were abused as children.
What is your view of the treatment of victims and witnesses during the investigation process and any subsequent legal proceedings in such cases?
There is a need for criminal justice personnel to be trained in victim awareness so that they will be more sensitive to victim's needs. We are aware of great extremes in the treatment of victims by criminal justice personnel, with examples of excellent practice, and in contrast, examples of behaviour so insensitive that it serves only to re-victimise the victim.
The criminal justice system needs to be more aware of the power of offenders' grooming of their victims. Frequently asked questions such as "why did you stay with him?" and "why didn't you just walk away?" reveal a lack of awareness of the power that an offender will wield against a victim. Such questioning makes victims feel that they are somehow perceived as equally culpable for the abuse they have experienced.
The failure of criminal justice agencies to make early referral of vulnerable witnesses to the Witness Service prevents adequate preparation and support being offered.
The work of the Witness Service in supporting victims and witnesses during the court processes is sometimes hampered by the inability of courts to make sufficient accommodation available so that prosecution witnesses can wait in a comfortable room away from other witnesses.
30 Povey, Cotton and Simpson (2000) quoted in "Criminal Neglect", Victim Support 2002. Back
31 "More sinned against than sinning; a study of young teenagers' experience of crime": Hartless, Ditton, Nair and Phillips, British Journal of Criminology, Winter 1995. Back