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It often takes many years for victims of sexual abuse to come forward. Claimants often feel embarrassed, and sometimes even partially responsible, for the abuse suffered.
The Truth Project was set up in 2015 as part of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse to help victims come forwards. Over 5,000 individuals have since disclosed instances of sexual abuse as part of the Project.
The Project seeks to understand the scale and nature of child sexual abuse. It offers a forum for individuals to share their experiences and can help them find support. It does notify the Police of incidents but, in most cases, victims can decide whether or not to disclose their identity. The Project is drawing to a close in October 2021.
All victims of sexual abuse suffer psychological injury of varying severity. Some may have difficulty maintaining relationships, others find it hard to find or keep a job, and others will have a general mistrust of authority. Sometimes substance abuse is used as a way of coping.
Victims can apply to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) for compensation or can bring a civil claim for compensation. The compensation awarded following a successful civil claim tends to be higher than that awarded through CICA. A civil claim can be brought directly against the perpetrator, or against an organisation on the basis of vicarious liability. The organisation may be held responsible for the conduct of the perpetrator (for example, if the perpetrator was an employee).
It is possible to bring a civil claim after receiving compensation from CICA but that compensation will then need to be repaid to avoid double recovery. The civil claim will encompass damages for the psychological injury as well as other heads of loss, such as loss of earnings and therapy costs.
Civil claims should be brought within three years from the date of the abuse, or from the date of knowledge of the abuse. If the abuse occurred while the individual was a child, then the limitation is three years from their 18th birthday. The courts have discretion to extend the limitation period in certain circumstances. The law recognises that it can take years for victims of abuse to come forwards. Limitation is frequently extended in cases involving a recent police investigation or criminal conviction.
When deciding whether to extend the limitation period, the court must balance fairness both to the claimant and defendant. Fairness will account for the frequent delay in victims coming forwards, but also any prejudice to the defence caused by delay on the quality of evidence and the clarity of memories.
Eurydice Cote is an Associate in the Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury Team. She advises individuals who have sustained catastrophic and life changing injuries. Eurydice has helped clients who have sustained a range of injuries, including complete and incomplete spinal cord injury, amputation, orthopaedic injuries, gastrointestinal injuries and loss of vision.
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