Rape victims denied compensation for petty convictions
- March 17, 2015
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Mike Massen of Cohen Cramer Solicitors is quoted in this article from The Guardian Newspaper 17th March 2013
Pauline Doyle was gang-raped as a teenager. After the attack, life slipped increasingly from her control. She was failed by numerous agencies and, for 19 years, was addicted to heroin and crack, supporting her habit in any way she could.
“I ran away from home at 14,” says Doyle (not her real name). “I went to a nightclub and someone who knew me said he had somewhere safe for me to stay. He took me to a house and showed me to a bedroom. Then six guys came in, one at a time, and raped me. I went to the police but nothing happened.
Within weeks, I started using drugs and I met a girl who introduced me to prostitution. So I became a sex worker at 15. Really, social services should have dealt with it, because I was put in a children’s home under their care, but they didn’t.”
In her 30s, she went into rehabilitation and broke her heroin habit. She got a job in social care, helping drug users, and began intensive therapy. In her mid-40s, with the help of Sapphire, the Metropolitan police’s specialist rape and sexual assault unit, Cardiff police and new-found clarity about what had happened, Doyle decided to press charges against the six men who had raped her. At a pre-trial hearing, all six pleaded not guilty and the case didn’t make it to crown court because of a lack of forensic evidence.
A few months later, however, Doyle, who is now 50, discovered that she might be eligible to apply to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) for compensation for what happened to her more than three decades earlier.
It is a little-known fact that rape victims can apply for financial compensation whether or not their attacker goes to jail. With fewer than 10% of reported rapes leading to a criminal conviction, compensation is another means of acknowledgement for survivors. They are awarded varying amounts by the CICA according to the severity of injuries, from a basic payment of £11,000 to a maximum of about £44,000.
However, there’s a catch. If you have an unspent conviction, the amount you are entitled to will be reduced. And since 2012, even a conditional caution, a small unpaid fine or a community order – punishments for trifling crimes – will lead to a reduction in payment.
Lisa Longstaff, WAR’s spokeswoman, says “We’ve recently seen women who’ve been denied compensation on the basis of having a minor conviction for smoking cannabis, a driving offence or shoplifting.”
She adds: “Lots of vulnerable victims have minor convictions from before or after they were attacked. Sometimes it is clear they’ve got into trouble as a result of the psychological trauma they suffered because of being attacked.”
Doyle herself had clocked up a record for drugs and prostitution and says she had to fight the CICA for 18 months to get compensation.
Doyle is clear that her path would have been different had she not been raped as a teenager. With the help of WAR, she finally convinced the CICA that this was the case. However, her award was still slashed by a third (about £10,000). One category of the CICA’s decision-making, called “character and conduct”, takes into account both convictions and lifestyles. In Doyle’s case, her years as a sex worker were likely to have been chalked up against her.
Niki Adams of the English Collective of Prostitutes labels this treatment of women as “moralistic and discriminatory”. According to the organisation, women who have worked selling sex are routinely denied compensation, or have their awards reduced. Like Doyle, they are effectively deemed less deserving.
Personal injury lawyer Mike Massen says that the CICA works on a “live by the sword, die by the sword” mentality. The reasoning is that, if someone has spent their life mugging old people, they shouldn’t receive taxpayer-funded compensation when they are, in turn, the victim of an assault. Massen agrees, however, that the system is arbitrary and sometimes unfair: “I speak to a lot of victims and the impact can never be underestimated,” he says.
Longstaff is clear that victims are entitled to compassion, “whoever we are”. “Whether we’re sex workers, children in care, asylum seekers or drug users. To refuse someone help for petty convictions is gut-wrenchingly unjust.”
In a statement, the Ministry of Justice said: “Under the criminal injuries compensation scheme, an applicant may be refused or awarded a reduced payment if they have an unspent conviction. This reflects the fact they may have caused distress, loss or injury to another person, and cost the taxpayer money through a police investigation or court proceedings.”