The answer as far as we are concerned is No!
The reason why this question features in our latest podcast is because it was said at the recent IICSA hearing into accountability and reparation.
IICSA was and is looking further into redress for child sexual abuse (CSA) survivors.
Evidence has been given that suggests the existing justice systems are not working effectively for survivors. Many are unable to claim compensation, and where it cannot be awarded, often is not.
There are powerful arguments to say that much needs to change, but it is not clear how and whether the lot of survivors can be improved.
The civil justice system has come under scrutiny and that will be the subject of a further podcast, but for the moment let’s look at what happens when a survivor approaches us for the first time.
We try to provide a holistic approach in the sense that we point out that the survivor is in charge of the discussion, and no one is ever going to make them do anything that they do not want to do. We recognise that survivors in other settings, perhaps, feel compelled or obliged to do as they asked. We try to engineer a sense that they feel no compulsion to do anything, and to do nothing is fine.
We consider it vital to allow the survivor to tell us whatever they feel necessary. Yes we may ask questions to clarify or to understand what we might have heard.
If asked we can advise as to the legal options that might be available. We might signpost the survivor to the police, or elsewhere for services that they might need.
This is the opposite of telling survivors what to do. It is not our place to tell them. It is our place to advise and inform, and to represent if that is what they want.
We have to be frank when advising. If legal action is appropriate we have to advise that and explain what is involved. If legal action is not possible we have to explain that too. We have to do this so that survivors can make informed decisions and it’s about empowering and not telling them what to do. That is an important and fundamental difference.
It is clear from the IICSA hearings that there is a major information deficit for survivors who by and large are not being informed of their civil rights by those who are in a position to do so. Survivors are too often dependent on those who ought to know but do not, and that just exacerbates the problem. This is a cause that we are trying to pursue with parliamentarians who we consider have a particular responsibility to make sure that the laws that have been passed to assist with redress are observed and enforced.
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