11 July 2011
Why litigation can be of comfort to those who have suffered sexual abuse
Many will have watched the fascinating BBC documentary a couple of weeks ago relating to allegations of sexual abuse against the Rosminians by former pupils of Grace Dieu School and St Michael’s Soni in Tanzania.
Had I not been a lawyer who regularly represents victims of sexual abuse, I may have been puzzled by two points. Firstly, why those former pupils of the school who are now adults appear to have suffered such a severe but entirely genuine psychiatric reaction as a result of some instances of, what some may describe as, minor sexual assault.
Secondly, why they would want to occupy their adult lives with pursuing the Institute of Charity (Rosminians) for compensation through civil litigation.
Through my work with victims of sexual abuse, particularly those who have been abused whilst in care and at school, can I say how very common it is for those who have suffered from even the more lesser forms of abuse to exhibit such a significant psychiatric reaction and such significant psychological trauma as a result of the abuse suffered, however minor. Of course I am not a psychiatrist and I cannot explain why this is.
From a lay person’s point of view I can only suppose that it has an awful lot to do with the sense of breach of trust that a child must feel from being abused by those who have been placed in” loco parentis”, frequently by those that they formerly had great respect for. Often these adults have great difficulty in maintaining stable relationships, particularly with their own family. There is often much bitter recrimination between parent and child as to why parents placed the children in a situation where they could be abused and often terrible guilt felt by parents for the harm suffered by their children.
What’s all the most upsetting in these types of cases is what the victims wanted was an apology and a simple admission of what had occurred with recognition that they had not been telling childhood lies and that there was a reason why they had suffered from the psychological traumas that they had.
You may ask yourself why in these circumstances would anyone want to embark upon stressful litigation which must surely act as a constant reminder of troubled times in the past. For those that I have known, pursuing civil litigation definitely acts as some type of catharsis and is certainly not about the money. How can you value psychological harm caused by sexual abuse to a child? However, what the money does do is give some form of recognition from society or from the Court as to what a victim has suffered and also serves as an acknowledgement of the harm done to them.
Those institutions that act responsibly, make prompt admissions of liability are thereby giving the recognition of the harm that has been done that these victims so crave.
In this television programme, the Rosminians acted with contempt to those alleging abuse by initially sending letters in which some recognition was given as to the assaults that had occurred, but then latterly denying those admissions and denying liability in civil litigation.
Until institutions such as the Church of England, the Catholic Church and local care authorities act responsibly and take a passionate stance towards those whose trust has been most profoundly breached, these sad types of cases will continue.
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